Spurs begin playoffs in familiar spot _ No. 1

Chris Bosh was never signing with San Antonio. At least, that's what everyone figured.

"At one time we had certainly considered going after Bosh," Spurs owner Peter Holt recently recalled. "We didn't spent a lot of time on that. We didn't feel like we could compete."

At the time, who didn't think that about the Spurs?

Yet one year after San Antonio appeared to be fading NBA royalty — barely making the playoffs, constant injuries to an aging core, a roster overhaul that never worked out — the Spurs open the playoffs back atop the Western Conference.

San Antonio hosts Memphis in Game 1 on Sunday as the No. 1 seed for the fifth time in the Tim Duncan era. It's a 14-year span that includes four championships and the highest winning percentage in the NBA (.700), but the team appeared on the downside last spring after the worst season yet.

Six months later, Tony Parker arrived at training camp predicting this would be the last shot for the Spurs. It was a now-or-never declaration that sounded almost brutally honest at the time.

Now it looks like the Spurs could have more chances ahead of them.

"Every game, every playoff is special right now. I understand that," Duncan said Friday. "This is the end of my career, the last couple of years. I'm not taking anything for granted. Every year we're given our last chance (to win a title). We'll take this as it is.

"Maybe we'll get another one. Maybe we won't."

The Spurs may start the playoffs without Manu Ginobili, who sprained his right elbow in Wednesday's regular season finale at Phoenix. The All-Star is listed as doubtful for Game 1 but tweeted Thursday that the pain was already almost gone.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday that Ginobili will play during the Grizzlies series. It's one of only a few bumps San Antonio (61-21) has faced while carrying the NBA's best record until the final week and posting the third-best regular season in franchise history.

"I don't think there's anybody in or out of the league that thought this team would be the first seed in the West," Popovich said. "I think that's a fact. They've done a great job. We'll see if we can build on it."

The resurgence even seems to astonish Holt.

"We're definitely going from the Tim Duncan era to the next era whatever that's going to be," Holt said. "We really are going to try to do something that, in the history of the NBA, is very difficult when you lose a Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan to not fall off the map and go through the rebuild process."

According to Holt, that conversation ended something like this: Let's stick with who we have.

Holt said he met with Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford to talk out the different scenarios. They were in no position to get a big name but already had two on their roster: Ginobili, who would sign a three-year extension last April, and Parker, who came into this season with an expiring contract.

The Spurs wanted to get younger and had concerns about Parker and Ginobili holding up after years of injuries. In the end, Holt said, they believed in their health and valued their loyalty. Holt also credited Richard Jefferson, who opted out of a guaranteed $15 million last summer, then re-signed a four-year deal that the owner said helped make all the numbers work and kept the Spurs under the salary cap.

"I'm not New York or L.A.," Holt said. "I can't pay those kind of dollars."

In all, the Spurs extended three key contracts in a six-month span that Holt said has established the core of the team for at least the next three seasons. Duncan, who turns 35 this month, has one more year left on his contract but a potential lockout looms next season.

So for now, the Spurs want to make the best of the chance they have.

"We always have something to prove," said George Hill, who will start Sunday if Ginobili can't play. "All year long no one has counted us in. We know that. All year long no one thought we were the best team. We were overrated, old, whatever they called us. But the record speaks for itself."