Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Jackson’

Uncertainty Of New Parker Injury Hangs Over Spurs


OKLAHOMA CITY — The San Antonio Spurs lost their grip on the West’s top seed Thursday night and potentially much more.

All-Star point guard Tony Parker couldn’t continue in the Spurs’ 100-88 loss to the Thunder due to an unspecified injury to his leg. Limping on his left leg in the locker room, Parker, playing well since recently coming back from a sprained left ankle, wouldn’t expound on this new injury, although a solemn coach Gregg Popovich seemed to be bracing for the worst.

“I’m really concerned about Tony right now after seeing his situation tonight where he just had to stop,” Popovich said. “My feeling is tendinitis, something in his shins or whatever, from the way it looked on the court. But I don’t know.

“I got to see what’s going on. I got to see what the deal is. We thought he had just kind of recovered from his ankle, so this was something new tonight with his leg. I just don’t know what it is right now.”

Popovich yanked the sluggish Parker for good after he noticed him limping through a two-plus-minute stint early in the fourth quarter, leaving crunch-time duty to rookie Nando De Colo. Parker played 26 total minutes, just 10 in the second half, and finished 1-for-6 from the floor for a season-low two points that snapped a 56-game streak of scoring in double figures.

Thursday’s game was just his seventh back from the sprained ankle and he’s been playing through the remnants of a bone bruise in the ankle among other nagging injuries. He scored 25 points with five assists Monday night at Memphis and sat out Wednesday’s game against Orlando, listed on the injury report with a sore left ankle.

“I just have to get healthy,” Parker said. “I’m not going to talk about all my stuff. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I just have to get healthy. OKC, give them a lot of credit. They just beat us tonight.” (more…)

Heat, Spurs Still Virtual Strangers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Both conference’s No. 1 teams made significant statements over the last two days.

It wasn’t just that the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs both convincingly knocked off their closest challengers. The greater message to the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder — and the rest of the league — is how they did it.

LeBron James is the runaway MVP candidate. He had an amazing streak of scoring at least 3o points and shooting 60 percent in six consecutive games. Yet, the Heat only needed 13 points (5-for-10 shooting), seven assists and six rebounds from him in trouncing the Pacers 105-91 on Sunday.

It can be argued that James creates such headaches for opposing defenses that it allows his teammates to run free. Sure, OK, but it had to be demoralizing to the Pacers, the NBA’s top-ranked field-goal percentage defense, to hold James to a baker’s dozen yet surrender 55.9 percent shooting from the field.

San Antonio earned its 105-93 victory Monday over the Thunder by having its two healthy members of the the Big Three — Tim Duncan (13 points, eight rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (12 points, four assists, 24 minutes) — make way for this big three: Tiago Splitter (21 points, 10 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard (17 points, three steals) and Danny Green (16 points, 4-for-4 on 3s).

The precision, depth and discipline of the Spurs was on full display in shooting 52.4 percent against the Thunder’s second-ranked field-goal percentage defense. San Antonio’s improving defense also cranked up, making it difficult on NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant (26 points, 7-for-13 FGs) and Russell Westbrook (25 points, 11-for-27), the leaders of the West’s second-highest scoring offense at more than 106 points a game.

Does this mean we’re headed for a Spurs-Heat Finals come June? Not necessarily. But what if? Which team would hold the advantage?

How can anyone really know? These two teams are virtual strangers.

Since James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in the 2010-11 season, the Heat and Spurs have played four times and none of those games featured lineups that would go head-to-head in a Finals series.

The fourth and most recent meeting was the infamous go-home game on Nov. 31 at Miami when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent his Big Three plus Green home. A steamed David Stern slapped San Antonio for $250,000 for pitting its reserves against the defending champs on national TV. The Heat won an entertaining game with a late comeback.

The three previous games were all blowouts (2-1 in favor of Miami) with a head-scratching average margin of defeat of 27.1 points. Two of those were played in the span of 10 days in March 2011, and the third was their lone meeting in last season’s lockout-shortened schedule, a 120-98 Heat win on Jan. 20, with Ginobili injured and Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair in the Spurs’ starting lineup.

Miami has yet to see the remodeled Spurs after they dealt Jefferson to Golden State for Stephen Jackson and added Boris Diaw. The Heat barely know Green, San Antonio’s leading 3-point bomber (although he did score 20 points off the bench on 6-for-7 3-point shooting in that game nearly 14 months ago).

Fortunately, the Spurs and Heat do meet again on March 31 at San Antonio. It might be our first real chance to assess how these two clubs match up.

Even then, Tony Parker might still be out with a sprained ankle. Either way, there will be plenty of intrigue if the Spurs and Heat, two virtual strangers, get together in June.

Ginobili Is Still Crashing Toward Future

SAN ANTONIO — Eleven seasons into this frantic NBA career as a two-legged entry in a demolition derby, Manu Ginobili is long past the point where dented fenders, a dragging muffler and wheels spinning right off the axles should have him sitting as a heap of spare parts off in some corner.

After all, El Contusion is as much a straight description as it is a nickname.

Yet here are the Spurs heading into the stretch run of another season trying to hold onto the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference with a 35-year-old guard who might as well be held together himself with baling wire and duct tape.

A sprained ankle has Tony Parker sidelined for maybe a month and that means the Spurs’ crutch as they head into a showdown tonight against Kevin Durant and the Thunder is suddenly a guy whose minutes played over the past two seasons are the fewest since his rookie year.

Never mind the previous hints about the end of the road. He’s not going anyplace but hellbent right into the teeth of whatever defense thinks it can finally rope him in.

If you ask him, he’ll tell you that the little things are felt more by that body that’s been recklessly thrown all over basketball courts from Argentina to Spain to every corner in the NBA, which is why he has to keep a closer eye on his rest and his diet and his stretching exercises.

But if you watch him, your eyes will tell you that very little has changed about the way he plays, which is a good and necessary thing for the Spurs.

While the delivery by Tim Duncan, who’ll turn 37 in April, at an All-Star level has been a revelation, there was at least reason to expect that The Big Fundamental and his earthbound game could push the limits to extend his career.

Ginobili, on the other hand, never figured to fade softly into a twilight. He’s always been more of a total eclipse guy, where one day the lights would simply go out.

When Ginobili signed his two-year contract in the summer of 2011, he told an Argentinian website that it seemed like that would take him to an “appropriate age to stop playing.”

However, he has seen the Spurs finish with the best record in the West the past two years, extend their excellence this season to stubbornly hold open the window of opportunity to add another championship and now Ginobili is saying he we would like to play two more seasons. The timetable fits perfectly with the contracts of Duncan and Parker, which expire in 2015 and could probably expect that to go out together in silver and black, he’d probably give the Spurs a “hometown discount” similar to his buddy Tim.

Of course, that all comes before potentially another two-month grind of the intense, rugged playoffs, fraught with the possibility that a human pinball could again do something to make his body go “tilt.”

Ginobili has been labeled increasingly fragile as the years have piled up, but that hardly seems as apt as just plain stubborn. Like the words from the Jacob Riis philosophy of “pounding the that rock” that adorn the halls leading to the Spurs’ locker room at the AT&T Center, eventually even the strongest substance will crack. Ginobili has simply been willing to hammer away at his own bones and ligaments and joints to point of breakdown.

“I’d rather play with someone like him, who plays hard and gets hurt, than someone who is afraid,” teammates Stephen Jackson said recently.

Various aches and ailments forced Ginobili to miss 16 games a year ago and 13 this season. Yet when he’s been on the floor, he’s been more than just respectable. While his field goal percentage (.448) and range from behind the 3-point line (.373) might appear pedestrian, his true shooting percentage is actually higher than the All-Star Duncan’s and he among the top three Spurs with a defensive efficiency rating of 99 points allowed per 100 possessions while he’s on the floor. As the minutes have increased out of necessity, so has his production.

In the four games since Parker was carried off the court on March 1, Ginobili has , shot 23-for-44 from the field and dealt 30 assists. He’ll continue to come off the bench, but will be the one running the offense at crunch-time and will also be called on for more scoring as the Spurs hit a stretch of schedule that after tonight will include a gantlet of the Nuggets, Clippers, Heat and at Memphis and at OKC a little over three weeks.

His fearless style has always kept the x-ray and MRI machines humming, yet the way he’s kept coming back from all of those injuries is one of the main reasons the Spurs have continued to push their time as championship contenders past their expiration date as declared by the experts. If those bursts of imaginative artistic brilliance don’t last as long, they can still come often enough to make the difference when the clock runs down and a game or a playoff series or a season might be on the line.

There will ultimately come a time when those wheels finally come off Manu Ginobili, but for now and, it seems two more years, he’ll keep the Spurs rolling.

Palmer Carves Out A Place In The Game


The outstretched arms pleading for sympathy are the same. So are the yelps of protest and the sometimes angry glares.

As a rule, NBA players treat Violet Palmer no differently than her male counterparts, which is the way she likes it.

“I’m a referee,” she said, “and I’m there to call a game.”

Palmer, 48, has been in the NBA since 1997, when she and Dee Kantner became the first female officials to work for a major professional sports league in the United States.

“Back in those early days, I never thought of myself as any kind of pioneer or a barrier breaker,” Palmer said. “I was just getting a chance in a game that I love and was too concerned with doing all of the things right to earn that position.

“But as the years have gone by and I’ve been asked to speak at a lot of career days and the subject comes up each year with Black History Month, I have come to understand the significance. I’m proud of having done something that nobody else has done and I’m most hopeful about having opened the doors for other young women in the future.”

Kantner was fired in 2002 for poor performance, but Palmer has continued to thrive and has a string of seven consecutive years of working in the playoffs, advancing as far as the conference semifinals. Only 36 of the league’s 62 officials work the postseason, an assignment based strictly on ratings and merit.

“I think all anybody cares about is competency,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Gender has nothing to do with it. Competency speaks for itself.”

“They could be a Martian for all I care,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “As long as they get calls right, are approachable and don’t have an ego trip, it doesn’t matter who it is blowing that whistle.

“I really think Violet is one of the better officials. She’s decisive in her calls. You’re allowed to talk to her. That’s all we want.”

Palmer’s playing career began at Compton High in Los Angeles and she went on to win a pair of NCAA Division II national titles at Cal Poly Pomona as a point guard in 1985 and 1986. After college, she worked for the City of Los Angeles as a recreation director and began to officiate games on the side at the high school and college level.

“I’m a basketball junkie,” she said. “Officiating was a way to stay close to the game and earn some part-time money. I had no idea when I started that I could make a career out of it. Then one day (1995) I got a call at home from (then NBA supervisor of officials) Darell Garretson, who said he’d started to track me and that the NBA was looking to train some women. At first, I thought some of my friends were playing a joke. But I found he was serious, got into the NBA training program and the first time I refereed a game in the summer league, I thought: ‘Oh boy! I love this and I will get me a job.’ ”

That job at the highest level of the game has evolved way past the point where anyone makes note or takes exception to her gender these days. Though in 2007, Celtics radio commentator Cedric Maxwell complained about calls and said she should “go back to the kitchen.”

Palmer laughs, shakes off any comments and only worries about making the next call. When she gets knocked down on the court, most of the players will lend a hand to help her back up. When she hits them with a technical foul, most will eventually come back and apologize for getting out of line. And a few have mentioned that the perfume she wears makes her the best-smelling ref in the league.

“I don’t mind,” she said laughing. “I am a woman. What I’ve found over the years is that while a lot of the fans in the stands are abusive, many of the players were raised by single, strong mothers and they respect me in that way.”

Part of that respect afforded to Palmer is probably reflected in the fact that two more female referees — Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja — have officiated NBA games this season with virtually no fanfare and little notice.

“I think the ladies coming up need to pay homage to Violet for her paving the way,” said Spurs veteran Stephen Jackson said. “To me, Violet’s done a great job. Honestly, she does a better job than some men. She gets the utmost respect from me and she showed the NBA they could bring women in and they could get the job done.”

“I’m close to both of them,” Palmer said. “Any time they have a question, the first person they call is me. I had to walk through a lot of this by myself. To have more women coming behind is very inspiring to me. I’m happy to hold up the banner.”

Spurs Smell Opportunity On Rodeo Trip


HANG TIME, Texas — Before heading out the door to the airport for the start of the Spurs’ annual Rodeo Trip that will them away from the AT&T Center until Feb. 27, the inimitable Stephen Jackson told reporters that he had to pick up a few things that probably won’t fit into his suitcase.

“I’m going to ride down there today and see if I can get me some (turkey legs),” said Capt. Jack. “That’s the best part: The food. If you can smell a little manure a little bit you can eat good. You’ve got to be able to take a little doo-doo. There’s a lot of it around there.”

OK, so never mind the home cooking. Historically, the Spurs have often been most well-done on the road, especially at rodeo time.

Even though they’ll open the nine-game journey that straddles the All-Star break tonight in Minnesota without Tim Duncan (sore left knee), the Spurs are giddy that their big man wasn’t seriously hurt when the Wizards’ Martell Webster rolled into the back of his legs on Saturday night.

“Five tough games before the All-Star break and we’ll see how Timmy is gonna be in the next couple of days and see if he can come back at least in the second half of that trip,” said Tony Parker.

“It’s always fun to go on the Rodeo Trip. That’s when we jell and come together as a team. The last couple of years Pop wanted to start early and jell early. Two years ago I think we had a lot of home games so we tried to have a fast start. But usually we use the road trip to play better basketball.”

The Spurs can hardly play much better than right now. They have a 10-game winning streak, the NBA’s best record (38-11) and are already a league-best 16-9 away from home.

In the 10-year history of the Rodeo Trip, the Spurs are 54-28 and have gone at least .500 every time. Last season, the Spurs went 8-1, suffering a 137-97 rout in Portland when coach Gregg Popovich sat Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili. And did not get fined.

The Clippers and Lakers are both teams currently on their longest road trips of the season, having had to vacate the Staples Center for the Grammy Awards. The Clippers, playing without the injured Chris Paul, are 1-3 midway through their eight-game trip and the underachieving Lakers are now 3-1 on a seven-game trek, but just lost Pau Gasol as they chase the No. 8 seed in the West.

Some teams fret and worry about the schedule and turn it into a monster that becomes too big to handle. For the Spurs, it’s just about ticking off the stops on the itinerary.

“We’ve had a good taste of the road early in the season,” said Danny Green. “This team has done it every year and so nobody really thinks about it. You just play them all until you get back home.”

Where the aroma of turkey legs and manure will still linger.

Spurs Rodeo Trip History

Year Record Lost on trip to …:
2012 8-1 Blazers
2011 6-3 Blazers, Sixers, Bulls
2010 5-4 Blazers, Lakers, Sixers, Pistons
2009 5-3 Nuggets, Raptors, Knicks
2008 6-3 Jazz, Thunder, Celtics
2007 4-4 Jazz, Suns, Magic, Heat
2006 6-2 Bulls, Rockets
2005 5-2 Wizards, Wolves
2004 6-1 Cavs
2003 8-1 Wolves


Spurs Breathe Easy As MRI Clears Duncan


HANG TIME, Texas — The citizens of San Antonio can go back to remembering the Alamo as the most tragic civic loss ever.

Tim Duncan will remain a part of the Spurs drive for a fifth NBA championship after an MRI showed no structural damage to his left knee. He has a sore knee, a mild right ankle sprain and is listed as day-to-day for his return to the lineup.

The 36-year-old Duncan had to be carried off the court by teammates DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson with 3:54 left in the second quarter Saturday night after Washington’s Martell Webster rolled into the back of legs following a missed shot.

Though TV cameras showed Duncan moving under his own power in the hallway of the AT&T Center and many of his teammates said they were encouraged to see Duncan walk out of the locker room without crutches following the game, there was going to be lingering doubt until a full exam was performed on Sunday.

It’s just the latest example of how everything can change in the blink of an eye. The Spurs have been cruising along comfortably all season with Duncan having one of the best showings in years. San Antonio currently has the best record in the NBA at 38-11, two games ahead of Oklahoma City and 5 1/2 better than defending champion Miami.

With Duncan in the middle, the Spurs are again legitimate contenders for the title. His loss would have realistically ended those dreams.

Duncan was making his return after sitting for four games with a sore left knee. Duncan said he suffered that injury after landing wrong at Philadelphia on Jan. 21.

Recently selected to his 14th All-Star Game, Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks with a 24.9 Player Efficiency Rating in his 16th NBA season.

The Spurs will be without Duncan as they start on their annual rodeo trip, a nine-game trek with the All-Star break in the middle that opens on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Now that trip will be ever tougher without Duncan, at least in part.

But for a city that had been holding its collective breath, a huge sigh of relief. The championship chase is still on.

Duncan Injury Packs Worry For Spurs


SAN ANTONIO — As if they didn’t have enough to lug around on a nine-game trip that will keep them away from home for most of the month, now the Spurs have to pack concern about Tim Duncan’s health.

There was a collective gasp at the AT&T Center when Duncan went down with just over four minutes left in the second quarter and had to be carried off the floor by DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson. Then there was sigh of relief when teammates later saw him walk out of the locker room under his own power without crutches.

“He’s fine. He’s fine,” said Tony Parker. “It’s nothing big. I’m sure [coach Greg Popovich] is going to be very cautious about his knee and we’ll see. He was pretty positive.”

The early diagnosis was a sprained right ankle and sprained left knee. But, one week after Rajon Rondo walked away from what was first thought to be a minor injury and then found out that he’d torn his ACL and was lost for the season, the Spurs will not rest easy until Duncan undergoes an MRI.

“That was scary when you see that,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “Those are always the ones you don’t want to see when a guy falls into you while your feet are planted on the ground. I just talked to his doctors and they said he is going to be fine. That was not a pretty thing to see.”

It was clear that Duncan’s injury affected the rest of the lineup. After building a 27-point lead in the first half, the Spurs lost focus and let the Wizards get as close as six points early in the fourth quarter.

“That’s going on through everybody’s mind …What’s happening?” Jackson said. “To have our best player go down like that, holding his knee and his ankle it’s frustrating.

“Nobody really seen him at halftime, because he was in [the training room] trying to figure out what’s wrong. I don’t really know the in’s and out’s of what happened, but I seen him walk out of here, so that’s always good.”

Washington’s Martell Webster drove to the hoop and had his shot blocked by the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. After Webster went to the floor, he rolled from behind onto Duncan’s ankle and knee. The big man stayed down on the floor as play continued to the other end where Danny Green scored a layup. Parker then took a foul to stop the clock as the Spurs’ medical staff ran onto the floor.

Duncan was making his return after missing four straight games with a sore left knee. He had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. Duncan had said that he could have returned for Wednesday’s game against Charlotte, but instead settled for three more days of rest. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.74 blocked shots per game this season and was recently named to the Western Conference All-Star team for the 14th time in his 16-year NBA career.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Timmy like that,” Green said. “I’ve seen him hurt before, the bumps, the bruises. He usually gets right back up. I figured today he was feeling good leg-wise. When we started out, he was playing well, back in rhythm. Seeing him go down, feeling as well as I thought he felt, kind of sucks, not just for him, but for us. We’re gonna need him. On this nice little road trip, a guy like that could help.

“I didn’t get to see the play. I heard it was his knee and ankle at the same time, which seems kind of weird. I don’t know how it happened. I had never seen him get carried off the floor, so I hoped it wasn’t serious and that we would have him at least for part of this road trip.

“We seen him right after the game. He seemed OK. Timmy’s always optimistic. It didn’t seem like it [was serious], but you never know with Timmy. His expressions don’t really tell you what’s going on. He’s always optimistic. He’s one of the greatest guys ever to play this game because he’s a pretty tough guy. He’s played through some pain and some injury, so he’s probably not going to show you he’s hurt like that, even if it was serious. But I think he should be OK.”

Waitress Takes Out Stephen Jackson


NEW YORK — The New York Knicks crushed the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday with improved defense and, perhaps, an assist from a Madison Square Garden waitress.

We’ve seen players tumble into cameramen under the basket before or get hurt when diving into the crowd, but this is a new one.

With a little less than 3 1/2 minutes to go in the first quarter, the Spurs’ Stephen Jackson missed a corner 3-pointer and took a step backward, where he collided with a waitress squatting just outside the sideline, just in front of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was sitting courtside across from the Knicks’ bench.

Jackson turned his right ankle on the play and couldn’t get back on defense on the ensuing possession, which resulted in a wide-open three for Carmelo Anthony that tied the game at 17. The Spurs were forced to call a timeout and it took Jackson a few minutes to make his way back to the locker room.

Jackson didn’t return to the game, but the waitress was seemingly unaffected. Bloomberg went on to eat a box of popcorn in the second quarter, but did not consume any extra large sodas and did not return to his seat after halftime.

At this point, it’s unknown if Jackson will miss time. The Spurs are 12-3 without Jackson, who previously missed time with a fractured pinkie and who didn’t speak to reporters after the game. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t comment on the bizarre circumstances of his team’s latest injury.

“I’m going to look at it,” Popovich said. “I didn’t see it.”

Really, Jackson’s injury had nothing to do with the game’s result, which was more about the Knicks’ improved defense and the Spurs’ fatigue. They were playing their fourth game in five nights.

“Too low on fuel, and their defense was too good,” Popovich said. “Bad combination, and then they made shots, which makes it even worse.”

Ginobili Likely Out As Spurs Get Two Back

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — The San Antonio Spurs could again be without Manu Ginobili after he suffered a contusion to the left quadriceps in a collision with Boston’s Chris Wilcox Saturday night.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not sound optimistic that Ginobili will be fit to play in Monday’s showdown at Oklahoma City.

“He got a thigh contusion just above his knee and one would think he is going to be stiffer than hell tomorrow,” Popovich told reporters after the Spurs beat Boston, 103-88 to improve to 19-6, two games behind the Thunder in the loss column. “It’s hard to believe he’d be ready day after tomorrow for Oklahoma, but I’m not sure.”

The Spurs just hope Ginobili isn’t out for long. The way he gripped his leg on the floor for a few minutes late in the first quarter certainly had everyone holding their breath.

No stranger to sprains, strains and contusions, Ginobili, 35, missed the first two games of the season with back spasms. The only other game he missed was the infamous Miami no-show when Popovich sent four of his regulars home, resulting in a $250,000 fine levied by the league.

Having returned to his sixth man role, Ginobili is averaging 11.5 points a game on 42.1 percent shooting and 35.1 percent from the 3-point arc. While his stats are down, his presence as a creative playmaker and the attention he demands from defenses is impossible to duplicate.

The Spurs are expecting good news this week. Forward Stephen Jackson tweeted that he’s excited about returning to action on Monday against the Thunder. Jackson broke a finger in November.

Second-year forward Kawhi Leonard is also expected back some time this week after missing a month with quad tendinitis.

Things Change, But Not The Spurs

HANG TIME, Texas — Things change.

Isn’t that what they say?

Maybe one day we’ll wake up to find the sun rising in the west, gravity no longer holding our feet onto the ground and the NBA’s most low-profile elite franchise going all Lindsay Lohan for the tabloids.

Six weeks into the season and the headlines out of San Antonio have been the $250,000 fine for “Popgate,” the Internet furor over the Halloween prank photo showing Tony Parker and Tim Duncan “attacking” a made-up referee Joe Crawford, and then Stephen Jackson got nicked for $25,000 for his threatening tweet about Serge Ibaka.

All that might be missing is the “Bad boy, bad boys…” music from “COPS” playing during the introduction of starting lineups.

So here came coach Gregg Popovich out of the locker room prior to Monday night’s game in Houston dressed head-to-toe in black, in keeping with the Spurs’ new bad boy image?

“It was clean,” Pop said, laughing. “It was the first thing I saw hanging in my closet and I had to take one. It’s not a message. There’s no gothic message here or anything like that.”

Indeed, the only directive delivered from the opening day of training camp was Popovich’s belief that his team had surrendered its identity to the Thunder after building a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals last June, failing to share the ball on offense at crunch time in four straight losses and never really making a commitment to defense.

“We were mediocre last year defensively,” he said.

Their 134-126 overtime ABA throwback win over the Rockets notwithstanding, the message has been heeded.

The Spurs are back with a league-best 18-4 record because they are back to minding virtually all of the details at both ends of the court. They are the first team since the 2001 Kings to rank in the top five in the NBA in offense, defense and pace of play.

They have done this while playing the most travel-wearying schedule in the league to date. The stop in Houston was already their 13th away game and the Spurs won 11 of them, giving them more road wins than 16 other NBA teams have total wins on the season.

They have done it piling up injuries at the small forward position that have already kept Kawhi Leonard out of 13 games and Jackson out a dozen and counting.

The Spurs have done it because their bench has stepped up in a big way, because the 36-year-old Duncan is playing at a level close to his MVP seasons, and Parker continues his ascendance as the driving force in the offense, evidenced by his first career triple-double — and the first by a Spurs guard since 1986 — against the Rockets.

They do it because even on a night when Duncan shoots just 1-for-9 from the field, he pulled down seven of his 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter and OT and took a page from Tom Brady’s Monday Night Football playbook and heaved a long “touchdown” pass that Manu Ginobili turned into a clinching three-point play.

While the young Thunder keep streaking, the Grizzlies keep flexing their muscles and the Knicks keep surprising, the Spurs just keep doing what they’ve always done, even in a season when they’ve attracted more attention for their sins than their wins.

“It’s drama to other people, but things happen and we move on,” Popovich said. “We don’t even discuss it. Nobody even talks about it.”

Things change.

Just not the Spurs.