Posted on April 15, 2011 at 6:44 PM
Friday, Apr 15 at 6:57 PM
Fiesta is almost over and that pesky income-tax return should be in the mail by now.
If it’s mid-April, that can mean only thing to Spurs fans: It’s playoff time.
For all intents and purposes, it’s like starting the season over.
“The regular season means nothing,” guard George Hill said Friday after practice. “The intensity comes up 10 more notches from where it was in the regular season. This is where you make a name for yourself.”
While the Spurs will begin the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference after finishing the regular season 61-21, they know the playoffs present an entirely different set of challenges.
“It’s doesn’t matter what your seed is and what your rank is,” Tim Duncan said. “People are coming to knock you off, so we know this is a 0-0 series right now and we’re going to start from there.”
That injured guard Mani Ginobili is listed as doubtful for Game 1 of the first-round series opener against Memphis on Sunday at the AT&T Center adds another dynamic to the start of one of the most anticipated postseasons in Spurs history.
Ginobili sprained his right elbow – he shoots left-handed – in the first quarter of the Spurs’ 106-103 loss to Phoenix in the regular-season finale.
Popovich said Friday that Hill would start at shooting guard if Ginobili can’t play Sunday.
“You’d rather have something like happen early so you can adjust to an injury and get a rhythm,” Popovich said. “It’s really unfortunate that it would happen in the last game of the season, but it did.”
While Popovich expressed a glimmer of hope Ginobili may still answer the bell for Game 1, he seemed resigned to starting the series without him.
“You have a day and half to see if he heals anymore and see what’s going on,” Popovich said. “But at this point, George Hill will be the guy who will start.”
Popovich said Ginobili “will be back at some point, for sure,” in the series.
Ginobili finished the regular season as the Spurs’ second-leading scorer with a 17.4 average, just behind point guard Tony Parker (17.5).
Hill, a second-year pro, started five of the 76 games he played in and averaged 11.5 points for the season.
“With or without Manu, George Hill is important to us,” Popovich said. “He’s a fine young player who does a good job at both ends of the court. Manu’s injury has nothing to do with George in that sense. Even with Manu, he’s got to play well for us.”
Memphis (46-36) and San Antonio split their four-game series this season, with neither team winning on the road.
The Spurs swept the Grizzlies 4-0 in a 2004 first-round series. Memphis never has won a playoff series and is 0-12 in the postseason.
After getting swept by the Suns in the second round last year, the Spurs reeled off one of the best records in franchise history this season. San Antonio jumped out to a 13-1 start and was 57-13 after 70 games.
But the Spurs went only 10-10 after routing LeBron James and the Miami Heat 125-95 on March 4. They lost six consecutive games – the longest skid of Duncan’s career in San Antonio, and went 4-8 the last three weeks of the season.
Although the losing streak began after Duncan sprained his left ankle and missed three games, the national pundits pounced on the Spurs, saying they were overrated.
“We obviously didn’t end the last 10, 15, 20 games the way we wanted to,” Duncan said. “But all in all, we had a very good season. We’re happy about that, we’re proud about that, but this is a whole new season.
Popovich stuck by his guys through the tough patch, and maintained a positive attitude about the season.
“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 fact. I think they’ve done a great job, and we’ll see if we can build on it.”