Getting Spurs’ Ford in gear might signal shuffling

By Jeff McDonald

The playmaking guard is on the mend, ready to soon resume his place in the Spurs’ rotation after being out since early January.

His coaches are excited, because he brings a dynamic few others on the team possess. He is a player with eyes in the back of his head, a Mensa-level basketball IQ and the enjoyable propensity to thread passes through the eye of a needle.

Manu Ginobili? Well, yes.

But also T.J. Ford.

“I can’t wait for T.J. to get back to 100 percent,” reserve guard Gary Neal said of the Spurs’ backup point man. “That’s a lot of open shots for me.”

It also could mean fewer minutes for Neal, but more on that later.

Tonight against Denver, Ginobili is likely — though not guaranteed — to reboot his season after a second stint on the injured list. His strained oblique has healed, and he’s been practicing at full tilt since the All-Star break ended.

Ford has played two games since missing 24 with a torn left hamstring suffered Jan. 10 in Milwaukee. His return to full strength could cause coach Gregg Popovich to reshuffle his second unit.

Reintegrating Ginobili back into the rotation is a no-brainer. Finding time for Ford, at the expense of other reserves who have been playing well, will be Popovich’s challenge over the season’s final two months.

“We’ve been playing a different way without him,” Popovich said. “It’s always an adjustment to see if you want to change that willy-nilly.”

The Spurs signed Ford to a one-year veteran minimum deal in December with designs on giving him all the available minutes at backup point guard.

Through the first two weeks of the season, it seemed to be working out. A pass-first distributor whose unselfishness fueled the offense for the Spurs’ second unit, Ford — a former college player of the year at Texas — seemed content to find everyone else for open jumpers and layups.

“I think we had a nice little chemistry before I got injured,” Ford said. “I’ve got the concept of the offense. I know where everyone is supposed to be.”

When Ford limped off the floor in Milwaukee, it pressed Neal — a shooting guard by trade — into duty as Tony Parker’s primary backup.

Though it isn’t his natural position, Neal manned the point admirably, and even developed some Ford-like ESP with center Tiago Splitter on the pick-and-roll.

Ford’s return, in theory, could eat into some of Neal’s minutes at point guard. Ginobili’s impending comeback will place a premium on everyone else’s minutes on the wing.

Popovich certainly isn’t going to complain about finally getting guys healthy. But it does create quite a rotation puzzle going forward.

“When somebody comes back, it always changes the dynamic, and you don’t know how it’s going to change it,” Popovich said.

“There’s no right or wrong. You’ve just got to feel it and see what the circumstances are each night.”

Neal looks at the upcoming competition for minutes, behind both Ginobili and Parker, as a positive development.

“When you get your chance, you’re going to have to play great to stay in the game, because we have so many good guards,” Neal said.

Ford’s return hasn’t quite created a rotational ripple effect yet. Still searching for basketball shape, Ford logged eight minutes against Chicago and 16 against Charlotte.

In the blowout win over the Bobcats, Ford scored seven points, made all three field goals, had three assists but — in a testament to his rustiness — committed three turnovers.

“My job is to allow other guys to make plays,” Ford said. “It’s not about me making plays. My role is to control the second unit and make sure we’re productive for the time we’re out there.”

What that second unit ultimately looks like is a matter to be determined over the next few months.
Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Spurs’ Ford back from D-League

By Jeff McDonald

T.J. Ford thoroughly enjoyed being a D-Leaguer for a day.

Of course, the seven-year NBA veteran didn’t have to endure a long, cramped bus ride, sleep in a less-than-five-star hotel or endure any of the other spartan accoutrements that accompany life in pro basketball’s minor leagues.

“It was just a practice,” Ford, the Spurs’ backup point guard, said of his one-day rehab stint with the Austin Toros. “I haven’t played a lot. I’m coming back from an injury. I think I had enough days off.”

Ford missed 22 games after suffering a torn left hamstring Jan. 10 in Milwaukee. He has totaled less than 30 minutes in three games since his return.

Under an NBA rule new for this season, teams are permitted to send veterans to the Development League, with the player’s consent. In years past, players with more than two seasons of NBA service time were ineligible for the D-League.

The Spurs assigned Ford to the Toros on Monday, in order to get him extra practice time on a day coach Gregg Popovich gave his team the day off.

Ford didn’t even have to leave San Antonio to join the Toros. They held their practice at the Spurs practice facility.

“It felt good to just come in a play, get up and a down and condition my legs, because it’s still a work in progress,” Ford said.

As expected, the Spurs recalled Ford on Tuesday, allowing him to practice with the team. He will be available with the Spurs tonight when the Spurs face New York.

Full strength at last: For the first time since Jan. 2, the Spurs will list no players on the injury report for tonight’s game against the Knicks. The entire roster – sans rookie point guard Cory Joseph, who is playing in the D-League – participated in Monday’s practice.

That includes power forward Tim Duncan, who has recovered from the stomach bug that limited him in Sunday’s loss to Denver.

Starting center DeJuan Blair played just four minutes against the Nuggets after suffering a knee contusion less than a minute into the game, but his sparing use was due to performance issues, not injury.

Discount double think: When Knicks forward Steve Novak knocks down a few 3-pointers in a row, he’ll often punctuate his scoring with a “title belt” celebration maneuver lifted from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The move has become known as the “discount double check,” after Rodgers’ series of commercials for State Farm.

In San Antonio, where Novak finished last season and was briefly in training camp with the Spurs in December, his former teammates don’t have to wonder how such showmanship might have gone over with Popovich.

“Not very well,” Matt Bonner said with a laugh. “I’d expect to hear a (substitution) horn at the next dead ball, for sure.”

Bonner, who ranks just behind Novak as the NBA’s fourth-most accurate 3-point shooter, says he has no plans to develop his own signature celebration move.

“I thought about doing like a tai chi move, but that didn’t pan out,” Bonner said. “My first thought after I make a shot is to get back on defense.”

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Durant’s big game trumps Ellis’ 48, Lee’s triple-double

“I don’t think he called bank,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson told reporters after the game.

The most surprised person about the basket might have been Durant, who notched 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It helped lead the Thunder to their second tight victory in as many nights after a stirring overtime triumph at Portland Monday night.

“It’s one of those things where you shoot it and you’re like, ‘Aw, that’s a terrible shot,’ ” Durant told the Associated Press of his game winner. “When it went in, I was kind of surprised.”

It was Ellis’ ninth career 40-point performance and matched the NBA’s highest-scoring game this season, set by Kobe Bryant against Phoenix on Jan. 10.

“We have to break that cycle,” Ellis told the AP of the Warriors’ loss, their sixth in their last nine games. “The games we should win, we’ve got to start winning. And the games like this, we should go out and compete and give ourselves a chance to win.”


Golden State G Monta Ellis: Ripped Oklahoma City for 48 points, seven rebounds, two assists and was plus-5 in the Warriors’ loss to the Thunder.

Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant: Went for 33 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the Thunder’s victory at Golden State.

Miami G Dwyane Wade: Went for 26 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block and was plus-2 in the Heat’s victory over Cleveland.

Indiana F Darren Collison: Notched 25 points, four rebounds, five assists and was plus-8 in the Pacers’ victory over Utah.

Phoenix G Steve Nash: Celebrated his birthday with a game-winning shot to cap an 18-point, 11-assist effort in the Suns’ victory at Milwaukee. Nash was plus-14 in the victory.

Golden State F David Lee: Notched his second career triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists and was plus-12 in the Warriors’ loss to Oklahoma City.


Oklahoma City C Kendrick Perkins: Shut out in 19 minutes with four turnovers and was minus-14 in the Thunder’s victory over Golden State.

Cleveland F Luke Harangody: Went 1 of 9 from the field with two points and was minus-22 in the Cavaliers’ loss at Miami.

Sacramento G Isaiah Thomas: Missed all five shots and had a turnover in the Kings’ loss at Minnesota.

Sacramento C DeMarcus Cousins: Went 3 for 13 from the field with two turnovers in the Kings’ loss at Minnesota.

Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook: Notched 31 points and seven assists, but had nine turnovers and was minus-7 in the Thunder’s victory over Golden State.

Cleveland G Ramon Sessions: Went 2 for 8 from the field with four turnovers and was minus-24 in the Cavaliers’ loss at Miami.