By Mike Monroe
Gregg Popovich fussed with a lock on the door that separates his postgame interview room from the Spurs locker room. The pregnant pause inspired a final shouted inquiry from the back of the media pack that had interrogated him after his team’s Thursday night victory over the Hornets at the ATT Center.
“What about the Thunder on Saturday night?”
As he pulled a curtain over the jamb so the door wouldn’t lock behind him, Popovich stuck his head back in the room. He summarized the challenge the Spurs face tonight against Oklahoma City, the team with the NBA’s best record, in what will be their last game at home for 25 days.
“I don’t think they’ve lost a game yet, have they?” he said.
The door closed on the curtain and Popovich headed to his office to begin plotting a way to compete against a team that has been only slightly less dominant than he had suggested.
Oklahoma City isn’t undefeated, but the 17-4 record the Thunder took into Friday’s home game against Memphis had them 2??1/2 games better than second-place Denver in the Western Conference and two games better than Chicago, which is tops in the East.“They’re the best team in the league right now, playing the best basketball in the league right now,” said Spurs captain Tim Duncan. “They’re very comfortable with each other and very talented. We’re going to have a lot on our hands.”
The Thunder has one of the league’s most potent one-two offensive punches.
Former Texas Longhorns star Kevin Durant, a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate, is the league’s No. 3 scorer at 26.6 points per game. Point guard Russell Westbrook ranks eighth at 21.9 points per game.
Only Miami’s duo of LeBron James (29.7 points) and Chris Bosh (20.4) has been more productive.
? The Spurs have reached the brink of their annual rodeo road trip with a 15-9 record. They’re fourth in a tight Western race despite playing all but five games without two-time All-Star guard Manu Ginobili, sidelined since Jan. 2 by a fractured fifth metacarpal in his left hand.Their ability to stockpile home wins before the San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo, which will send them packing for more than three weeks, has been vital. Their 12-1 record at the ATT Center is the league’s best home mark.
Duncan understands the importance of dominating at home, even against a Thunder team that has the league’s best road record at 9-3.
“Absolutely, absolutely we have to, especially the way we’ve played on the road so far,” he said. “Home court is huge for us, and we have to continue to win here.”
There have been some close calls at home of late, including Wednesday’s victory over the Rockets that required a second-half comeback from a 58-40 deficit, but Duncan has found encouragement in the team’s recent defensive improvement.
“Yeah, the defense is getting up there,” he said. “We’re starting to understand and starting to get on the same page. There’s not a lot of practice, so there’s not a lot of situations where we can go in there and work on one thing and get it under out belts.
“We have to work on things during the game and get that experience there. Then watch film when we can and work on those situations. But we’re getting there.”
The Spurs haven’t spent one minute of practice time working on zone defense.
Nevertheless, they came out of a timeout in the fourth quarter Thursday and played one defensive possession in a zone, forcing a Hornets miss.
Forward Matt Bonner called it a Popovich exercise in negative reinforcement.
“That’s Coach Pop’s joke when you screw up,” he said.