Spurs’ stars easing into regular minutes

By Jeff McDonald

MIAMI — With three games left in the preseason, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says it’s time to take the bubble wrap off his regulars.

The Spurs’ veterans, including 36-year-old Tim Duncan, 35-year-old Manu Ginobili and 30-year-old Tony Parker, need to ramp up to something approaching a full night’s work.

That time could come soon, perhaps as early as this afternoon at Miami.

“That process has begun,” Popovich said. “The starters want to have a rhythm at the beginning of the year. That will start to show itself as we move forward.”

That’s music to the ears of Ginobili, who says for conditioning’s sake he wouldn’t mind topping 30 minutes at least once this preseason.

Through four exhibition games, none of the Spurs’ Big Three 30-somethings are averaging more than Duncan’s 17.7 minutes per game. Duncan and Parker each have missed a game. Ginobili skipped two with a sore right heel.

“We’ve been having some good, long, tough practices that can get you there, too,” Ginobili said. “But probably one of these three games, a 30-plus minute game will be important to see where you’re at. I don’t know what Pop is thinking. We haven’t talked about it. But at least in one game, I’d like to have a season-like game.”

Conditioning has been on Ginobili’s mind since he left the London Olympics in August. Instead of propping his feet up during September, he stayed in shape by practicing two or three times a week with an Argentine club team.

“I hate it when I have to sit two or three weeks,” Ginobili said. “It feels like you have to start from scratch. I don’t like that.”

We meet again: The Spurs missed out on meeting LeBron James in the NBA Finals last season.

Several Spurs’ players did square off against James in high-stakes Olympic contests later in the summer, and the results weren’t pretty.

En route to gold, James’ Team USA ran through Ginobili’s Argentine team, Parker’s French team, and Patty Mills’ Australian squad. The Americans also bested Tiago Splitter’s Brazilian team in an exhibition in Washington before leaving for London.

Ginobili said James’ Olympic run — in which he averaged 13.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds in 25 minutes per game — was as impressive as his Finals run.

“He’s been good since the first year,” Ginobili said. “He’s good. He probably does some things better (now), but he’s one of the best players ever. It’s not like he had to improve much.”

Visiting Vaughn: Popovich said he was looking forward to the second leg of the Spurs’ Florida trip, capped by a Sunday game at Orlando.

Jacque Vaughn, a former Spurs’ point guard and assistant coach, is the Magic’s new coach.

“In the regular season, we’ll be trying to beat each other’s brains in,” Popovich said. “The preseason is a lot more fun. We’ll have a lot of fun with that, try to screw with him. Just for kicks.”


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