By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
It’s not about streaks, even for a team that has now won 19 games in a row.
Streaks get you headlines and shout-outs on SportsCenter. The Spurs don’t care about headlines or SportsCenter.
It’s not about records, even for a team that has managed to put together an amazing string of 15 consecutive seasons where they have won at least 50 games.
Records get you mentioned in bar bets and trivia contests. The Spurs don’t care about bar bets or trivia contests.
It’s not about nationally televised, so-called statement games, even if it’s against your top rival in the Western Conference and your potential biggest roadblock on a return drive to The Finals.
Statements only matter when they come from the last team standing. The Spurs don’t care about statements until June.
Through all of the hype and noise that will surround tonight’s clash with the Thunder in Oklahoma City (8 ET, TNT), the Spurs shrug and keep an eye on just one number — minutes played.
“We’ve never had any numerical or positioning goals, ever. Not one time,” coach Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “We’ve never talked about it one time the entire time I’ve been here. The only thing we’ve talked about is trying to be the best team we can be come playoff time. That’s what we harp on, period.”
The Spurs are four games up on the Thunder and another win might put the No. 1 seed in the West and the NBA’s best overall record on ice.
In a bit of poetic coincidence, the Spurs will try to push their streak to 20 against the team that stopped them the last time they were on such a run. San Antonio won the final 10 games of the 2011-12 regular season and the first 10 games in the playoffs to build a 2-0 lead on OKC in the conference finals. But the Thunder then did a complete reversal, winning four straight to bounce the Spurs.
However, this will also be the Spurs’ fifth game in seven nights, the kind of meat grinder stretch of the schedule that has often meant a night of rest and relaxation for the team’s older stars — soon-to-be 38-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and even 31-year-old Tony Parker.
If there is a “Pop Principle,” it is managing minutes and keeping legs fresh for the playoffs. Of course, he spent $250,000 of the franchise’s money as the result of a fine from Commissoner David Stern last season to stand on that principle when he sent several veterans home from a ballyhooed TNT game at Miami.
The Spurs are one of only two teams in the league with just a single player playing more than 30 minutes per game this season. The other is the Bucks, who have the NBA’s worst record.
The 30.1 minutes averaged by Parker is the lowest since his rookie year. That cutback was necessitated after the Spurs went to Game 7 of The Finals last year and then, Parker played competitively into September for the French national team that won the EuroBasket title.
“I know what Pop’s trying to do,” Parker said. “You have to look at the big picture and the playoffs. I’m going to trust his judgment and try my best to stay in rhythm. Sometimes it’s tough, but we’re winning, that’s the main thing. If I can be fresh for the playoffs, that’s my main goal.”
Ordinarily, it might be hard to hold Parker back from himself. But he has seen Popovich do it again and again to protect Duncan and Ginobili from their competitive instincts and the result since the All-Star break has been a Spurs team that is as healthy, in rhythm and confident.
This is the kind of game that outside forces — fans, media — tend to think means a lot. After all, the Spurs are 0-3 against the Thunder this season and have lost nine of the 11 times they’ve played. It’s time to prove a point, they’ll say.
The Spurs don’t care about proving points, just saving legs. For two more weeks until the playoffs start.