Published April 30, 2013
SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs take a systematic approach under Gregg Popovich.
They didn't take into account that the Los Angeles Lakers were dealing with injuries to stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. All the playoff-tested Spurs saw was an opponent they had to beat to advance in the Western Conference playoffs.
"We were here to beat the team that was in front of us to move on," said Tim Duncan. "However you want to put it in the books and put it in whatever chapter, we won this series and we're moving on and we're happy about that."
The Spurs eliminated the Lakers with a 103-82 victory Sunday that completed a four-game sweep in the first-round series.
San Antonio will face the Golden State Warriors or Denver Nuggets in the next round. The Warriors lead that series 3-1 and can close out the Nuggets on Tuesday night in Denver.
The Spurs took Monday off but begin preparations for the next series with a light practice Tuesday. The added rest should help San Antonio's aging squad overcome the few nagging injuries they accrued in the opening-round series.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili both missed significant time in the final month of the season due to leg injuries before averaging 22.3 and 11.3 points, respectively, against the Lakers.
Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter are both expected to return during the second-round series. Splitter did not play the series finale after injuring his ankle in Game 3 and Diaw missed the entire series after undergoing back surgery to remove a cyst April 11.
"(The rest is) huge for Boris and Tiago, especially," Ginobili said. "I kind of need to keep playing, but I'm not going to complain. We're going to have a couple of good practices, which is always useful. And the team is going to be ready for the next round."
Whether they face the Warriors or Nuggets, the Spurs know what kind of opponent to prepare for.
"It's going to be a track and field (meet)," Parker said of both Golden State's and Denver's up-tempo style. "Whoever we play there is going to be a lot running. It's going to be another great test for our defense."
San Antonio split its four meetings this season against both Denver and Golden State, with each team winning twice at home.
After a bruising series against the Lakers that resulted in Dwight Howard's ejection for arguing a lack of calls against the Spurs' defense, a track meet is actually a welcome break.
"It was time for Timmy to change series ... we were joking about it," Parker said. "He played great in the series. He was unbelievable all four games. It's going to be a little different for him now in the other round. Now it's more me, Manu and Kawhi (Leonard) chasing all those guards."
After closing the regular season with a three-game skid and seven losses in their final 10 games, the Spurs are beginning to resemble the team that held the West's top seed for much of the season — not that they expected any different.
"You guys were worried. We were not worried," Parker said. "We had some injuries. Obviously, we didn't have our best month of April, but it doesn't matter. The most important is to be healthy when the playoffs start and that's what we did and so far we are getting back to Spurs basketball."
The key to playing that style is Popovich, who raised eyebrows when he released key reserve and locker room favorite Stephen Jackson less than two weeks prior to the playoffs. While players may have privately questioned the move, they never said so publicly.
After all, Popovich has led the team to 16 straight postseason appearances and the best winning percentage of any major professional team over that span.
"I know it's an honor to play for someone like him," Duncan said. "Someone that has his focus and his heart on not only our team, but on basketball itself. He's going to do what's best for the team and what's best for us to win games."
The Spurs' defensive style helped frustrate Howard, who was the Lakers' focal point with the team's top five guards missing the final two games of the series with injuries.
What would Popovich have done if one of his stars lost his cool the way Howard did?
"That wouldn't happen on this team," Parker said.