Spurs hope steady lineups lead to better consistency
SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich foreshadowed all the flaws 1 hour, 45 minutes before the team would actually flash them on the court Sunday in a 118-102 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Sure, San Antonio snapped a two-game skid in defeating the lowly Kings.
“But, from what I’ve seen, we’re just not disciplined enough,” Popovich said before the game even tipped off. “We’ve got to get a lot more disciplined if we want to be the last team standing, that’s for sure.”
First, though, San Antonio’s entire squad needs to stand up, as opposed to sitting due to injury and other issues because availability could do wonders to alleviate the issues currently sticking in Popovich’s craw.
Since the start of the new year, the Spurs have played a total of 35 games and have utilized 15 combinations of starters, as several of the club’s most important contributors have been forced to miss time because of various injuries and ailments. In addition to missing a pair of games to rest, point time guard Tony Parker has sat out of a total of 16 contests due to right knee soreness, a left quadriceps contusion, a left knee contusion, left foot pain, another quadriceps contusion and back stiffness.
“It breaks the team chemistry,” said star forward Kawhi Leonard, who finished with a season-low 12 points. “Once you have that unit out here with your five guys knowing who you’re going to play with, who’s going to sub you in and out, I feel like you get better chemistry like that, rather than somebody sitting and not knowing if you’re gonna play.”
Leonard missed time this season due to soreness in his left hand, a quadriceps contusion and a concussion, while San Antonio also held out Pau Gasol for 15 games after he fractured the fourth metacarpal on his left hand. LaMarcus Aldridge, meanwhile, has missed time with gastroenteritis, not to mention his recent bout with minor heart arrhythmia.
“The last time we had the lineup like we’ve had it all year was Jan. 1, when we lost to Atlanta,” Popovich said. “Last night [in Memphis on March 18] was the second time we lost with our full lineup. So from Jan. 1 to last night, we’ve had two losses with a full team without anybody out. So that made me feel a little bit better.”
San Antonio tipped off the 2016-17 season with a starting lineup consisting of Leonard, Aldridge, Gasol, Danny Green and Parker, and that group has racked up a record of 18-5. When Gasol broke his finger in a freak collision with Kyle Anderson during pregame warmups in January, it forced the Spurs eventually to play with a lineup featuring Leonard, Aldridge, Dewayne Dedmon, Green and Parker.
That group owns a record of 11-2, but much of the team’s success hinges on the availability of Parker, a veteran leader, who showcased his importance in Sunday’s win over Sacramento.
“I’m really disappointed at all the injuries because he’s never been able to get a consistent run,” Popovich said. “When he did have that one period when he was consistent, he was playing great defense for us and keeping the team together; really making good decisions on what we needed to be doing offensively, you know on the pace of the game and that sort of thing. Then as the injuries started coming, he [has] starts and stops and starts and stops. He hasn’t been able to get his rhythm back. That’s why we’re playing him [against Sacramento] on a back-to-back. We’ll limit his minutes, but he’s got to get out there and keep playing now down the stretch, and get back into a groove for us with the other players.”
All the upheaval leads to the issues with discipline and inconsistency that Popovich loathes; especially with the team in the midst of trying to catch its groove in time for the postseason.
“Too many defensive errors,” Popovich said when running down San Antonio’s problems. “It’s got nothing to do with what the other team is doing, just basic defensive errors through lack of communication way too many times. And on offense, not enough good decisions, not enough [passing to go from] good-to-great [shots], not enough movement. That’s all got to improve by the time playoffs begin.”
San Antonio made as much apparent in the early going Sunday against the Kings, who shot out to a 9-0 lead as the Spurs missed their first eight shots. At one point in the opening quarter, Sacramento led by as many as 12 points. But Parker, playing limited minutes, put together a 12-point second quarter after hitting 6-of-7 from the floor as the Spurs outscored the Kings 37-22 in the second quarter to take a 58-49 lead into halftime.
“Tonight, he was really aggressive. He was effective,” said Gasol, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hitting 2-of-2 from long range. “He made plays for himself, getting into the lane. But he also was able to kick it out, make plays for others, and make key passes for our teammates. It was great to see.”
Parker played 20 minutes and connected on 8 of 10 shots with seven assists.
“It’s great. He us gets easy shots, wide-open looks,” Leonard said. “He just makes it easier for all of us.”
The night before, San Antonio spotted the Memphis Grizzlies a 28-point lead from which it could never recover on the way to a 105-96 loss.
The defeat marked the Spurs’ second in a row, and Popovich saw in Memphis what he hopes soon comes into view for his squad.
“You’ve got to get into a flow. Like, if you look at Memphis last night, I thought they were great,” Popovich said. “They were together. They’ve got all their guys. They executed really well on both ends of the court. That’s what you’re gonna get for playoff time. They look like they’re ready to go.”
San Antonio doesn’t right now, but it took a step closer to where it needs to be against the Kings.
“We did a good job tonight. We didn’t turn it over,” Popovich said. “We moved the ball well. I thought we were really aggressive at both ends of the court; came back after a couple of losses pretty well.”