HANG TIME WEST – After all the concern about the closing schedule with games in rapid-fire succession, all the displeasure at a back-to-back-to-back in California last week only to turn around for another back-to-back in Oakland on Thursday night to close the regular season, the ending could not have gone much better for the Spurs.
The last few weeks went from nightmare possibilities about laboring into the postseason to, in actuality, their dream outcome: a 10-game winning streak without coming close to taxing the veterans. Along the way the Spurs secured the best record in the conference and home-court advantage through the West bracket, all the while making rest the priority, with no concerns at the very end over the impact of the travel schedule.
Did we mention coach Gregg Popovich got to limit the minutes of his veterans?
That was No. 1 on the game-plan list, not edging the Thunder for the top spot in the West. Finishing first was just a prize that went along with it.
The Spurs were so locked into R&R mode that even Popovich skipped the finale against the Warriors, leaving the coaching to assistant/protégé Mike Budenholzer. With the game being played in Oakland, Popovich was in San Antonio. As was Tim Duncan. And Manu Ginobili. And Tony Parker. And Gary Neal. Two other key parts of the rotation, Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard, were there, but did not play.
Duncan logged 52 total minutes the final six Spurs games, Ginobili 81 (never more than 25 any night) and Parker all of 96 (never more than 28). The entire Big Three stayed behind as what remained of the lineup handled the Phoenix-Golden State back-to-back. And yet, win after win after win.
The plan was to stay in San Francisco on Thursday night, return to San Antonio on Friday and practice Saturday in preparation of Game 1 against Utah on Sunday, with the schedule another win considering the Spurs could have had the difficult turnaround of a Saturday playoff opener. Even the calendar is breaking right for them.