Waiting game isn’t fun for winners of 14 straight

The Spurs returned from Salt Lake City early Tuesday morning with a ticket to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs in hand, and more time to kill than they know what to do with.

For guard Danny Green, the space between the Spurs’ first-round sweep of Utah and the start of the conference semifinals — whenever that is — has already been filled with an ample to-do list.

“A lot of grocery shopping, a lot of cleaning the house, a lot of reading, video games,” Green said.

In between catching up on missed chores, Green and the rest of the Spurs will keep an eye on Memphis’ first-round series with the Los Angeles Clippers.

They don’t seem to care which team wins it, so long as it happens as quickly as possible.

Rest is nice. But when you’ve won 14 games in a row, so is staying locked in and on a roll.

“I don’t care if it’s a week off or four days,” captain Tim Duncan said. “You’re going to lose your rhythm a little bit. It’s probably going to take a quarter or two to knock that rust off once we start playing again.”

The Clippers lead their series 3-1 with a chance to close out the Grizzlies tonight at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. If that happens, the top-seeded Spurs could host the fifth-seeded Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals as soon as Saturday.

It will take some work, but if Memphis is able to push the Clippers to seven games, the Spurs wouldn’t return to the floor until at least Tuesday.

“When you’re on a roll, you want to start again as soon as possible,” said Tony Parker, who averaged 21.5 points and 6.5 assists against the Jazz.

The Spurs haven’t lost since April 11, when the Los Angeles Lakers took a 98-84 win at the ATT Center. By the time they take the floor again, it will have been more than a month since they last tasted defeat.

They are on the second-longest winning streak of the coach Gregg Popovich era, surpassed only by the 2003-04 team that won 17 straight before losing to the Lakers in the conference semifinals.

With this year’s playoff itinerary now in the hands of the likes of Chris Paul and Rudy Gay, the Spurs intend to look on the bright side of their forced hiatus.

The series against the Jazz was more bruising than the 4-0 tally shows, and players admit some time to recharge might be a good thing.

“A lot of guys are bumped and bruised all over the place,” Duncan said. “We’re going to use this time to rest up and at the same time try not to lose our rhythm.”

In search of that sweet spot, Popovich scheduled every-other-day practices for the rest of the week. He will work his team out today and Friday, taking Tuesday and Thursday off.

In the meantime, Popovich and his staff have begun to pull film on the Clippers and Grizzlies and formulate the skeleton of a game plan for each.

If the Spurs would prefer a rematch with Memphis, the team that ambushed them from the No. 8 slot last year, they aren’t saying.

“We have to get ourselves ready to play,” Popovich said. “Those are two great teams, and it will be tough either way.”

Either opponent would bring back a clutch memory for Spurs guard Gary Neal.

His last-second 3-pointer in Game 5 last year helped the Spurs briefly extend their fruitless series against Memphis.

His overtime-inducing triple Feb. 18 in L.A. — unofficially assisted by Paul — was the highlight of one of the Spurs’ most stirring victories this season.

“I hope we don’t need my clutch gene this time around,” Neal said.

For now, all the Spurs can do is wait — for the Clippers to finish off the Grizzlies, or the Grizzlies to finish off a comeback.

And sometimes, that can be the hardest part.


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Durant, Westbrook pace Saturday’s S&Ds with monster games

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were determined Saturday night to bring Oklahoma City another step closer to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

Durant erupted for 43 points and Westbrook chipped in with 35 points and eight assists to lead the Thunder’s 115-110 triumph at Minnesota.

The victory kept the Thunder a game ahead of the Spurs with six games remaining.

Durant scored 16 points in the last seven minutes as the Thunder wrapped up their fourth victory in their last five games. It was his fourth 40-point game of the season. 

”We want to win as much games as we can going down to the stretch of the season,” Durant told the Associated Press. ”Hopefully we get (the No. 1 seed). If not, we’ve just got to keep playing. We can’t worry about that. We’ve just got to worry about how we can get better every single game.”

Westbrook sank two key free throws with 14.8 seconds to seal the victory. Earlier, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman even tried 6-foot-11 forward-center Anthony Randolph in a futile bid to check the Thunder’s offensive catalyst.

“We tried everybody,” Minnesota guard Jose Barea told the Oklahoma of trying to defend Westbrook. ”He’s tough, especially when he’s making the midrange and the 3-point shot.”

Their combined efforts paced Saturday’s Studs and Duds.


Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant: Blistered Minnesota for 43 points and seven rebounds and was plus-14 in the Thunder’s victory.

Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook: Notched 35 points, eight assists and was plus-17 in the Thunder’s victory at Minnesota.

Los Angeles Clippers G Chris Paul: Went for 28 points, 13 assists, four rebounds, three steals and was plus-11 in the Clippers’ triumph over Golden State.

Memphis F Rudy Gay: Went for 26 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the Grizzlies’ victory over Utah.

Indiana C Roy Hibbert: Muscled for 23 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and was plus-14 in the Pacers’ triumph at Milwaukee.

Golden State G Nate Robinson: Came off the bench to score 28 points, eight assists, five rebounds and was plus-12 in the Warriors’ loss at the Clippers.


Golden State G Charles Jenkins: The rookie from Hofstra missed all four shots with three turnovers and was minus-20 in the Warriors’ loss at the Clippers.

Oklahoma City F-G James Harden: Clanked through a 1-for-11 shooting effort with a turnover and was a game-worst minus-18 in the Thunder’s victory at Minnesota.

Milwaukee C Drew Gooden: The former Spur went 2 for 10 from the field with three turnovers and was minus-7 in the Bucks’ loss to Indiana.

New Jersey G Deron Williams: Notched 14 assists, but was 3 for 12 from the field with four turnovers and was a game-worst minus-16 in the Nets’ loss at Boston.

Phoenix C Marcin Gortat: Went 3 for 12 from the field and was a game-worst minus-27 in the Suns’ loss to the Spurs.

Spurs patching up defense on the fly

By Jeff McDonald

PHILADELPHIA — A 14-point lead had vanished. The Memphis Grizzlies had awoken to take a six-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The Spurs were on the verge of a disheartening opening to their 10th annual rodeo road trip.

On the edge of unraveling Monday night in Memphis, Tenn., the Spurs called on an old friend.

Their defense saved them, holding the Grizzlies to just 11 points in the final frame as the Spurs rallied for an 89-84 victory they hope sets a tone for the rest of the nine-game trek.

“That’s what we’re going to have to bank on,” forward Tim Duncan said. “We’re not going to score a bunch of points every night.”

As their epic road jaunt continues tonight in Philadelphia, the Spurs know their defense is still light years from the unit that once strangled opponents en route to four NBA titles.

In truth, it might never get there.

Even so, there’s no disputing the Spurs are playing better defense now than they were on Jan. 10, when they shot 60 percent and lost at Milwaukee, causing coach Gregg Popovich to bemoan “the worst defensive team we’ve ever had.”

“I think we’re starting to understand the system a little better, taking a little more pride in it, becoming a little more consistent in execution,” Popovich said. “We’re making fewer mistakes in certain areas.”

Tonight in Philadelphia, where points are sure to come at a premium, the Spurs’ ability to keep the score low will be paramount. Under coach Doug Collins, the 76ers are allowing an NBA-best 86.64 points per game.

“Since I’ve been in San Antonio, we don’t have a good record in Philly,” said point guard Tony Parker, whose team has lost four straight in the City of Brotherly Love. “They always play well against us. We’re going to have to match their energy.”

Before the season, Popovich announced his intention to return the Spurs to the top echelon of NBA defensive teams. Twenty-one games in, that goal remains elusive.

The Spurs rank 24th in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 45.3 percent. They are 12th in scoring defense (93.5 points per game).

Over the past eight games, however, the Spurs’ defense has shown palpable signs of life.

They didn’t surrender triple digits in regulation in any of those contests, limiting foes to 42.9 percent shooting and an average of 87 points.

With a handful of young players populating the rotation — including rookie forward Kawhi Leonard, third-year swingman Danny Green, and a pair of second-year players, center Tiago Splitter and guard Gary Neal — improvements have had to come almost exclusively on the fly.

“It’s almost all from playing, because there aren’t any practices,” Popovich said.

“While they’re playing, we’re coaching and teaching and making adjustments, and getting on them, and congratulating them, and getting on them — just so they understand what we’re looking for.”

Monday in Memphis provided the blueprint. Against the Grizzlies, the Spurs’ defense allowed them to hang on despite a nearly six-minute scoring drought in the third quarter.

The Spurs took control by holding Memphis without a point for the first 5:23 of the fourth quarter, then sealed the game when Duncan blocked Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol in the last 34 seconds.

With Memphis down three, Gay had a chance to tie, but his 3-pointer out of a timeout was well defended and hit nothing.

“We know the fourth quarter is where we need to focus on defense, make our stops,” Green said. “If we make our stops, we know we’ll be OK.”

The phrase “stops on demand” used to be a popular T-shirt slogan around the Spurs’ practice facility. Lately, that motto has seemed to go the way of “Where’s the Beef?”

If Popovich gets his wish, stops on demand might be back in style again.