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.”


Ex-Spurs guard Vaughn gets win over former team

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By Jeff McDonald

ORLANDO, Fla. — Not long before the Spurs tipped off at the Amway Center, the opposing coach wandered into their locker room.

No, Jacque Vaughn was not lost in his new home arena.

“Jock-o!” a smiling Spurs coach Gregg Popovich bellowed.

Vaughn not only joined Popovich in the NBA head coaching ranks after spending three seasons as a player and two as an assistant with the Spurs.

Sunday night, Vaughn also beat him.

Behind 18 points from rookie Andrew Nicholson and 17 from Glen Davis, the Orlando Magic — in their first preseason under their rookie head coach — held on for a 104-100 victory.

Sure, it was just an exhibition. No, it won’t count toward the 847 victories Vaughn still needs to catch Popovich as the NBA’s winningest active coach.

For Vaughn, growing every day into the role of a head coach, the win was still sweet.

The best moment? After the game, when the Spurs — some of them his former players, others his former teammates — lined up on the court to give Vaughn a congratulatory hug.

“That was a special feeling,” said Vaughn, 37, who was named Orlando’s coach last summer when Stan Van Gundy was canned.

“There are guys on that team I played with, guys on the team that I coached, staffs that I was in a lot of meetings with. You think back on what basketball is all about, and for me, that’s it right there.”

Before the game, Popovich praised Vaughn, his latest former player to take the head coaching plunge.

“You can look at players on any team and get a feel for who has an intuitive sense of what’s going on on the court,” Popovich said. “Jacque had that. He was one of those players you would seek out and share information with and get suggestions from.”

For the veteran-laden Spurs, visiting Vaughn was the bright spot in another day in another preseason that some players admit is starting to feel a little like Groundhog Day.

The Oct. 31 opener at New Orleans can’t here soon enough.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who just want to get through the preseason,” Popovich said.

One of those veterans, forward Stephen Jackson, agreed: “Yeah, it’s boring. We’re ready for games that count.”

The Spurs weren’t quite locked in on either end Sunday, giving up nearly 50 percent shooting while hitting only 40.7-percent of their own shots.

Danny Green remained dialed in, hitting 3 of 6 3-pointers en route to 13 points. Tim Duncan offered a solid 12-minute cameo, producing nine points and four rebounds. Manu Ginobili had one of his sharpest outings of the preseason as well, pouring in 12 points on seven shot attempts.

Hoping to work his way into game shape, point guard Tony Parker asked for and received regular-season minutes, playing nearly 32. Parker’s shot was off — he missed 10 of 13 — and he finished with 10 points.

“I think we’re ready,” said Parker, whose team ends the preseason at home against Washington on Friday. “We’ve got another week of practice. Hopefully we can improve and be ready.”

Once the regular season begins, the Spurs and Magic are expected to take divergent paths.

One reason played out Sunday on the other side of the country, when Dwight Howard made his L.A. Lakers’ debut.

Orlando is in the throes of a rebuilding project that could get painful for Vaughn and new general manager Rob Hennigan, another Spurs expatriate.

Popovich is confident if anyone can get the most of the Magic’s young roster, it is “Jock-o.” Sunday, albeit in a game that didn’t count, Vaughn did just that.

“He understands what wins and what loses,” Popovich said. “He understands what a team really is. He’s sort of a no-brainer as far as coaches go.”

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Slideshow: NBA coaches with Spurs ties

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Express-News staff writer Mike Monroe runs down the seven NBA teams with a head coach with ties directly to the Spurs:

Doc Rivers, Celtics: Played two seasons, 1994-96; broadcaster, 1996-97

Avery Johnson, Nets: Played 10 seasons, 1999-2001

Vinny Del Negro, Clippers: Played six seasons, 1992-98

Mike Brown, Lakers: Assistant coach three seasons, 2000-03

Monty Williams, Hornets: Played three seasons, 1995-98; assistant coach, 2004-05

Jacque Vaughn, Magic: Played three seasons, 2006-09; assistant coach, 2010-12

Alvin Gentry, Suns: Assistant coach, 1988-89