Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Spurs, season opener
When, where: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., AT&T Center
Last season: Spurs won series 4-0
Spurs last season: 61-21, first in Southwest Division
Timberwolves last season: 31-51, last in Northwest Division
TV: KENS 5, 8 p.m.
Notable: The Spurs have won 11 consecutive games against Minnesota, including seven in a row at the AT&T Center, since a 108-95 Timberwolves victory on April 17, 2013.
SAN ANTONIO – And so it begins.
Another Spurs season is upon us.
The last time we saw the Silver and Black in a game that counted, they were walking off the court at the AT&T Center after getting swept by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 14.
As he made his way to the Spurs’ locker room, veteran guard Manu Ginobili received a thunderous ovation from fans. Visibly moved, he acknowledged the cheers with a wave.
Chants of “Manu, Manu, Manu” reverberated through the AT&T Center. It was like the last act of a play. Had Ginobili just played his last game in his stellar career with the Silver and Black?
After pondering his future for a couple of months, Ginobili decided to return for at least another season. He signed a two-year, $5 million contract in August, a few weeks after turning 40 on July 28.
The second-oldest player in the NBA behind Vince Carter, Ginobili starts his 16th season with the Spurs when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center. The game will be the first of nine televised this season on KENS 5, the official station of the Spurs. Wednesday’s pregame show will air on KENS 5 at 8.
“At this stage of my career, I’m just happy to be around,” Ginobili said after a workout this week. “Of course, opening (the) season is exciting, but Game 2 is going to be exciting, too. When you get to a certain age and experience, you want to enjoy that whole process, the journey. I’m there now.”
For the first time since he joined the Spurs in 2002, Ginobili will start a season without both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Duncan retired after the 2015-16 season, and Parker remains sidelined after rupturing his left quadriceps tendon in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals last season. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker won more games together than any other trio in NBA history.
The Spurs also will start the season without All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, who missed the entire preseason with a quadriceps injury that has lingered since last season. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has given no timetable for Leonard’s return.
The team’s leading scorer, top playmaker and best defender, Leonard finished third in the balloting for the league’s MVP award last season.
Of course, the Spurs are nowhere nearly as good without their best player, but if they can take any solace in their situation, it’s that they’ve had an entire training camp to adjust to his absence.
“Obviously, we’d love to have everyone healthy,” backup guard Patty Mills said. “But this is the first game. It’s not the start of the playoffs.”
Ginobili also struck a positive tone when talking about starting the season without Leonard.
“From the beginning, it’s been us,” he said. “It’s not that we had Kawhi and he got hurt yesterday. “Of course, we’re not going to be the best we can be without him, but it’s not going to be a big adjustment because for five preseason games we’ve been playing without him.
“But for sure, it’s not the Spurs team that we thought we were going to be at this stage. We’re going to try to get as many wins as possible for when they come (back), the team is already rolling and we are in sort of a comfortable situation.”
Second-year pro Dejounte Murray is expected to start at point guard and Kyle Anderson probably will begin the game at Leonard’s spot.
Murray, who played only one season at the University of Washington before turning pro, has agreed to a contract extension with the Spurs. Murray said he had “no clue” that his agent had reached an agreement on an extension until general manager R.C. Buford told him at practice.
“R.C. came to me and told me and we hugged,” Murray said. “It’s a great thing for me. I’m blessed.”
Murray isn’t the only Spur feeling good about getting a contract extension. Veteran power forward LaMarcus Aldridge signed a three-year, $72.3 million deal this week that will keep him under contract with the Silver and Black through the 2020-21 season.
With Leonard out, the Spurs will lean on Aldridge to carry the bulk of the team’s offense. Looking more confident and relaxed on the offensive end of the court, Aldridge averaged a team-leading 18 points in the preseason. He left no doubt that he’s ready for the season to start.
“I think it’s been a great preseason,” Aldridge said. “It’s time to work now.”
Wednesday night’s game will be special for new Spur forward Rudy Gay, who played only 30 games last season after sustaining a career-threatening Achilles injury in January. Gay played the previous 3½ seasons with Sacramento before signing with the Spurs as a free agent this summer.
“It was a long process to be ready for the opening night,” Gay said about his recovery from the injury. “It’s crazy for me. Obviously, I didn’t know anything about the injury or what could possibly happen. I just worked my ass off to this day.”