Spurs notebook: Splitter’s lessons crafted on court

NEW ORLEANS — A student of the NBA game long before he ever played in one, Spurs center Tiago Splitter spent many a night in Spain watching whatever film from America he could get his hands on.

It’s a practice he continued last season after coming over from the Spanish League.

Finally a fixture in coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation in his second NBA season, Splitter is learning something that he long suspected about the American game: Playing it is more beneficial than watching it.

“You learn more when you play,” said Splitter, the 27-year-old Brazilian who appeared in just 60 games as a rookie. “You learn from what you see every day and get a feel for the game.”

A trip around the league has made Splitter more comfortable and confident on the court, particularly in the low block. He is learning how certain defenders — such as Houston’s Luis Scola and Jordan Hill on Saturday — want to attack him, and, as importantly, how to counterattack.

With Tim Duncan out of the lineup for a 105-102 loss to the Rockets, Splitter exploded for a career-high 25 points off the bench, going 11 of 13 from the floor.

Heading into tonight’s game at New Orleans, Splitter is averaging 8.6 points and five rebounds — up from 4.6 points and 3.4 boards as a rookie. He has already logged seven double-digit scoring nights, after posting nine all of last season.

“He basically didn’t play last year, so it’s all new to him,” Popovich said. “He’s a student. He watches film, he understands players. He’s a quick learner.”

No pressure: Duncan earned his first day off of the season Saturday against the Rockets, benched by Popovich for rest reasons. The Hornets are unlikely to be as lucky tonight.

Looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season, Spurs players disputed the notion that the loss to the Rockets created added pressure to beat the 3-13 Hornets once Duncan returns.

“We’ve got 49 games left,” said Matt Bonner, who started in Duncan’s spot at power forward. “Every night we come in trying to win. I wouldn’t say we’re putting any extra pressure on ourselves because we lost one game.”

Rest for the weary: In light of Duncan’s DNP, Popovich admitted the lockout-compressed schedule, with few natural breaks built in, has made resting players a difficult chore.

“It’s more difficult to manage than usual,” Popovich said. “You have to constantly filter in how many minutes your players are playing, how many games you just played, and when’s the last time you had a day off.”

The Spurs have not had more than one day off between games this season, and won’t until the middle of next month’s rodeo trip, when they go Feb. 9 and 10 without a game.

“It’s a little easier with the regular (82-game) schedule,” Popovich said. “You get some breaks here and there, and it kind of takes care of itself to a large degree. This year, you don’t have any of those respites that help you manage.”


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