HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Five days ago the San Antonio Spurs were the picture of good health, one of just two NBA teams with a clean injury slate. Now, as they begin a six-game, 10-day road trip through the Eastern Conference, two key injuries have the Spurs plugging holes with D-League reinforcements.
Starting small forward Kawhi Leonard (knee) could return by the fifth game of the trip (at Orlando in a week) and reserve small forward Stephen Jackson (finger) will miss all of it, and more. Jackson is expected to be out four to six weeks after he fractured his right pinkie finger Monday night.
Combined, the pair averages 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds. Beyond the stats, Leonard is a tough wing defender and he helps spread the floor offensively as a 3-point threat. The veteran Jackson obviously delivers jolts of energy and attitude at both ends of the floor.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich loves to rotate players and the injuries will make that more difficult to accomplish when most needed on a long road trip that winds through Boston, Indiana, Toronto, Washington, Orlando and finally Miami, and includes two back-to-backs. Through 11 games — with the Spurs quietly at 8-3 — Popovich has used 10 players for at least 16 minutes a game with only two players — Tim Duncan and Tony Parker — averaging at least 30 minutes (both are at a very reasonable 30.5).
“It hurts numbers-wise,” Duncan said following Monday’s loss home loss to the Clippers. “Obviously, what they mean to the team skill-wise and being out on the floor and making shots and all the rest of that stuff, numbers-wise we actually had some guys step up. Matty (Bonner) got back in there and played well. Nando (De Colo) got an opportunity, so we’re just going to have to keep shuffling and see what we get out of it.”
On Wednesday, the Spurs recalled guard Cory Joseph from their D-League affiliate in Austin and signed former draft pick James Anderson, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who was playing for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
But, old hands like Bonner, whose customary 20 minutes a game over the last four seasons has been sliced in half this season, in-and-out-of-favor DeJuan Blair and the inconsistent Tiago Splitter will have to pick up more minutes and help out the rejuvenated Duncan (18.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg) on the boards, the one area the Spurs collectively have lacked, ranking 24th in the league in rebounding differential and near the bottom in giving up offensive rebounds.
“Obviously we lose a lot of size with Jack and Kawhi, so that’s going to be a disadvantage for us at that 3-position,” Duncan said. “We’re going to ask them to do a lot more of that rebounding and rebound their area, but it’s on all of us. We know what we have to do. We know where we’re being hurt, and definitely the offensive glass is one of them.”