With the specter of last year's first-round meltdown against Memphis still stuck in their craw, the Spurs start the playoffs Sunday with an iron-clad resolve to atone for one of the most disappointing postseasons in franchise history.
The Spurs, seeded No. 1 in the Western Conference and riding the crest of a 10-game winning streak, play the No. 8 Utah Jazz at noon at the AT&T Center.
"We're confident," Spurs captain Tim Duncan said. "We're playing well. Above all, we're healthy. We were able to get some rest these last couple of days and we're real excited to start the playoffs."
The Spurs won't lack for incentive to come out as the aggressor in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series.
San Antonio won 61 games last season and entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the West, but No. 8 Memphis took the opener at the AT&T Center and ousted the Spurs in six games.
How much effect will the memory of last year's debacle against the Grizzlies have on the Spurs?
"It's always going to have bearing," Duncan said. "Obviously, we finished with the top spot and we lose in the first round. That's always going to have bearing, but this is a different team and a different year. That's behind us."
Point guard Tony Parker had a different response to the same question.
"I think it gives us more motivation," he said. "Obviously, we were very disappointed last year. We didn't play our best basketball."
Spurs have won 24 of their last 27 games
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat out Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili, a.k.a. the Big Three, the last two games of the season.
San Antonio finished the lockout-shortened regular season 50-16, tying the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the NBA. The Spurs, who won 24 of their last 27 games, reeled off three triple-digit winning streaks during the 66-game regular season, including a league-best 11 in a row twice.
Utah (36-30) had to beat Phoenix in the next-to-last game of the season to clinch a playoff spot.
While the Spurs are among the favorites to win the league title, they made it abundantly clear after practice Saturday that they expect a tough, physical series against the Jazz.
"The Jazz have been a solid, organized, fine-executing, physical team for a very long time," Popovich said. "That hasn't changed. They compete every night to their best of their ability and they execute. That's what they're known for. They play together. It's a fine group."
The Spurs went 3-1 against Utah in the regular season, but the Jazz own a 3-1 edge in playoff series between the teams. They haven't met in the postseason since 2007, when the Spurs eliminated the Jazz in five games in the Western Conference finals. The Silver & Black went on to win their fourth NBA crown that year.
Unlike last year, when they lost eight of their last 12 regular-season games, the Spurs enter the playoffs as the hottest team in the league. And unlike last year, when Ginobili suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale and was limited against Memphis, the Spurs are healthy.
Still, Ginobili and his teammates are taking nothing for granted against the Jazz.
Jazz coached by former Spurs player
Ginobili was direct when asked if he thought the momentum of the Spurs' season-ending winning streak would carry over to the playoffs.
"For the first game," he said. "If we lose the first game, then the momentum is gone. The playoffs is just a whole new story. It's like a new season starts. Nobody cares if you were No. 1 or if you were No. 8. We start off from scratch.
"Of course, we earned the possibility of playing at home, but that's it. Once you lose the first one, you lose that, too. We've got to do as well as we did in the regular season."
Coached by former Spur Tyrone Corbin, who succeeded longtime Utah coach Jerry Sloan in February 2011, the Jazz are led by forward Paul Millsap, center Al Jefferson and point guard Devin Harris. Jefferson and steady backup forward/center Derrick Favors, both 6-foot-10, give Utah a tough inside presence on both ends of the court.
"I would say their size, their physicality, their relentlessness," Duncan said, responding to a question about what impresses him about the Jazz. "They keep on coming. They have a very big team. We're going to have to match that. We're going to have to be real physical with them, and they're always real good in Utah."
Popovich said the Spurs face a formidable challenge against the Jazz's big men.
"It's a great rebounding front line and they can also score," he said. "Their points in the paint are pretty impressive throughout the season. They've got bigs that also shoot it out to midrange and they're relentless on the boards on both ends. They do it consistently, night after night after night, so they're a big challenge."
Popovich praised the job Corbin has done since replacing Sloan, who resigned during the 2010-11 season. Corbin started his NBA career as a player with the Spurs in 1985, and played in San Antonio for two seasons.
"Replacing Coach Sloan is a pretty tall order, and I don't think anybody could have done it better than Ty did," Popovich said. "They have done a heck of a job. Everybody responds to him. He holds them accountable. They believe in him. They believe in the system. They believe in each other. That starts with him."
Spurs vs. Jazz playoff schedule
- (Best-of-7 Western Conference first-round series)
- Game 1: At San Antonio, Sunday, noon
- Game 2: At San Antonio, Wednesday, 6 p.m.
- Game 3: At Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday, May 5, 9 p.m.
- Game 4: At Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, May 7, time TBA
- *Game 5: At San Antonio,Wednesday, May 9, time TBA
- *Game 6: At Salt Lake City, Utah, Friday, May 11, time TBA
- * Game 7: At San Antonio, Sunday, May 13, time TBA
- * if necessary