Still stinging from last season's playoff collapse in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs won't lack for motivation when they begin training camp Tuesday.
After reeling off a 20-game winning streak that included a 10-0 start in the playoffs, the Spurs saw their promising postseason run end with four consecutive losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Needing just two victories to reach the NBA Finals for the fifth time in franchise history, the Spurs instead became only the third team in league history to lose four straight in the conference finals after leading 2-0.
"We're still feeling the pain of that loss to Oklahoma City," Popovich said Monday during the team's media day. "When you're in the conference finals and you're up 2-0 and you don't get it done, that hurts. Obviously, you give them (Thunder) credit. They're a heck of a team.
"But it doesn't take the hurt away. I think we all still feel it very, very much. That's a good thing. We've got to use that as fuel. That was a very, very, very tough loss. We think about it now, as we have all summer long and it's our job to see what else we can do to combat that youth and that talent. We've got some ideas and we'll see what happens."
The Thunder suffered the same indignity as the Spurs against Miami in the Finals, losing four in a row after winning the series opener.
Popovich said Oklahoma City took the series from the Spurs by beating them at their own game.
"There's an identity theft that took place in that playoff," Popovich said. "We played like the Spurs the first couple of games. Oklahoma City, I believe, learned from that and they played like we did offensively, sharing the ball and trusting their teammates. We lost our identity, so we want to make sure we understand that and get that back."
Popovich: Improving defense a top priority for Spurs
One other thing the Spurs want to get back is the defensive tenacity that was the trademark of its four championship teams.
"For us, it's about the defense," Popovich said. "We have to be able to make more stops in the fourth quarter than we did last year."
Spurs captain Tim Duncan said he and his teammates recognize they must improve their "all-around team focus on being a defensive ballclub," to remain a title contender.
"I think we've been that way in years past," he said. "I think the last couple of years our focus has kind of been on our offense, trying to up our tempo, trying to be more of a scoring team. We want to keep that, obviously.
"I think we've gotten to a point where we're real comfortable with what we do in that respect. But, defensively, we've got to get better. We can be a good defensive ballclub and build on that."
Duncan said the disappointing end to the team's 2011-12 season, when they finished with the best record (50-16) in the Western Conference, drove him to work harder in the offseason.
"Absolutely, a huge amount, a huge amount," he said. "Obviously, we were right on the verge of getting back to the Finals and we feel we had every opportunity to do that. Hopefully we can build on that this year and get right back to that point."
Duncan 'raring to go' for 16th season
Manu Ginobili said Popovich showed the Spurs video of the Western Conference finals recently.
"He wants us to be fired up, knowing that we were real close and we let it go," Ginobili said. " I think it helps."
While Popovich said the Spurs' four-game tailspin against the Thunder still sticks in the team's craw, Ginobili made it clear he's moved on.
"I have to," Ginobili said. "We've got an 82-game season ahead of us. We know we let a huge opportunity get away, but in my head, I've got to start building to get another opportunity like that. Tomorrow we start training camp full steam, and I try to get as good as we were at that point."
Duncan, the linchpin of the team's four championship teams, signed a three-year contract extension in July. Preparing for his 16th NBA season, he was drafted by the Spurs with the No. 1 overall pick in 1997.
"I'm not going anywhere," Duncan said. "I've been here for so long. This is home for me. I was so healthy and I felt so good last year. I hope to have another year like that and have another three years like that. I hope that I feel that good at the end of this contract."
Looking lean and rested, Duncan left no doubt that he still has plenty left in the tank at age 36.
"I've been working hard, trying to stay in shape," he said. "I've been here for a lot of time and I'm just raring to go."
Parker says he's had no problems with injured eye
Monday's session with the media was the first time point guard Tony Parker has faced reporters in San Antonio since he suffered an eye injury in a New York nightclub fight in June. Parker still went on to play in the Olympics without any problems, wearing protective goggles.
He said he was cleared for training camp by doctors Monday morning after going through three hours of tests.
"I'm good to go," Parker said, adding that he doesn't plan to wear goggles.
Parker said he "definitely" learned a lesson from the incident that left him shaken after a piece of glass from a broken bottle scratched the cornea in his left eye.
"Being at the wrong place at the wrong time just put life in perspective," Parker said. "You just think of stuff different. It happens. In life, stuff happens and you just learn from it. You just try to be more careful. I'll just move forward and learn from it and try to do better next time."
Nearly four months after the Spurs' meltdown in the Western Conference finals, Parker hasn't quite come to terms with how the Thunder turned around the series.
"I still think about it," he said. "It's tough. Sometimes it's hard to understand basketball. You win 20 games in a row and you're feel that you're playing the best basketball. And then you lose four in a row and it's very hard to understand.
"But that's the beauty of sport. Sometimes it's great and sometimes it's very painful. You just hope you're on the right side."