Spurs seek more ugly wins during grueling schedule

After the Spurs laid waste to the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, Tim Duncan took the extraordinary step of conducting his post-game media session seated in front of his locker, instead of his customary spot standing in another corner of the room.

In this lockout-compressed season, in which most every night is game night, it seems any amount of wear and tear saved on Duncan’s 35-year-old knees is a worthwhile investment.

“Hopefully, we can get a lot of games like this, so we can rest guys and not wear ourselves out,” Duncan said after the Spurs’ convincing 93-71 victory.

What the Spurs will take in this 66-game sprint of a season are wins — any which way they come.

With star guard Manu Ginobili out for the next six weeks with a fractured shooting hand, and with the schedule starting to stack up on them, the Spurs see no reason to quibble with the scoreboard.

Playing on the second night of a back-to-back Thursday, the Spurs missed 52 of 86 shots against Dallas, becoming only the 16th team since 1985 to win a game by at least 22 points while shooting worse than 40 percent.

They did so, in part, because the Mavericks — the oldest team in the NBA — were also playing for the second time in as many nights, and went 27 for 77 from the field, including 1 for 19 from the 3-point arc.

“It doesn’t matter how you win, ugly or pretty, so long as you win,” said guard Gary Neal, providing the mantra for the season.

Not-so-fresh off that not-so-pretty win over Dallas, the Spurs tonight open another back-to-back — at home against Denver, then on to Oklahoma City — sure to test both their physical conditioning and mental toughness.

It will mark the third of 17 back-to-back sets this season. The Spurs will also face a pair of back-to-back-to-backs.

Youthful and nimble and deep, neither the Nuggets nor the Thunder represent the preferred fare for a gassed Spurs team amid a four-games-in-five-nights stretch.

“You’ve just got to dig deep,” said backup point guard T.J. Ford. “This season is going to be about mental toughness, and it’s only going to get tougher.”

Now more than ever, style points are irrelevant. Across the NBA, the art of winning ugly is en vogue.

Of course, the Spurs knew that from the moment the shrinky-dinked schedule was announced in early December, none of them more keenly than Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich.

Both were around in 1999, when the NBA’s last lockout shriveled the season to 50 games. Of course, Duncan was then only 23 years old.

“I was running up and down like a deer,” Duncan said. “I wanted to play every day.”

The Spurs lost just 13 games that season en route to claiming the franchise’s first NBA title, but five of those defeats came after playing the night before. Overall in 1999, the Spurs were 10-5 either on the second night of a back-to-back, or the third night of a back-to-back-to-back.

Popovich came into this season with a plan to play more players and minimize minutes for older veterans. So far, he’s seen no reason to deviate from that prescription.

“You play to win, but you don’t want to drive anybody into the ground,” Popovich said.

For Duncan — the only player older than 31 on the Spurs’ suddenly fresh-faced active roster, now that Ginobili is out — that’s meant playing past the 30-minute mark only once in seven games. In all, 12 Spurs players are averaging double digits in minutes.

“I think everybody is feeling good about that part of it,” Duncan said. “It’s a long season. Pop understands that.”

If it keeps Duncan off his feet, and the ugly wins piling up, the Spurs will take it.

“Every team has to go through those stretches,” Duncan said. “We just have to find a way to fight through them.”

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