Spurs braced for opener Tuesday night against loaded Warriors

Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
Tipoff: 9:30 p.m., Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.
Records: Season opener for both teams
2015-16 records: Spurs 67-15; Golden State 73-9

SAN ANTONIO – This is when the rubber hits the road for the new-look Spurs, who open their first season in 20 years Tuesday night without power forward Tim Duncan, whose retirement in July ended of one of the longest and greatest careers in NBA history.  

The Silver and Black already have been through their first training camp since 1996 without Duncan, but now comes the real test: the grind of an 82-game season, with all of its twists and turns.

“When you’re in a training camp, you are not in full-speed mentality,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “You are trying to get in shape, you’re trying to remember the plays, think everything back. This is just the beginning. This is when we’re going to start to miss him.”

The Spurs face the arduous task of opening the season on the road against two-time defending Western Conference champion Golden State, which set a league record with 73 victories in 2015-16. After falling short of winning a second consecutive title, the Warriors strengthened their hand by signing All-Star forward Kevin Durant in July.

“You don’t have any control over it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, when asked about the team’s tough draw on opening night. “We’ll find a whole lot of things we need to work on after that game, for sure.”

Popovich chuckled before joking: “Steve (Kerr, Warriors coach) told me he wasn’t going to play all his guys, so that’s going to be good.”

And Popovich believed him?

“Oh, absolutely,” he said, laughing.

Popovich was asked his assessment of how training camp went.

“As usual, step by step, trying not to skip any of those steps,” he said. Then he chuckled before continuing. “We’ll be ready for the season in about a month, probably, like everybody else.”

The Spurs’ challenge of slowing down Golden State’s high-octane offense got more difficult last week when starting guard Danny Green, one of the team’s best defenders, aggravated a left-quad injury during the team’s Silver and Black scrimmage. Green, who initially strained the left quad in a pick-up game before camp started, is expected to miss at least three weeks.

Green, the Spurs’ best 3-point shooter, has developed into one of the league’s best two-way players in recent seasons.

“He’s probably more important to us defensively against a team like that than he is offensively,” Popovich said. “He’s going to make shots or miss shots, but at the defensive end, he’s really been important for us. Against a team that runs offense so well, like Golden State, that’ll be a challenge.”

Led by high-scoring guard Stephen Curry, the Warriors failed to win back-to-back titles after squandering a 3-1 lead against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. Durant will give a team that already had two other scorers besides Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, even more firepower.

Kyle Anderson subbed for Green in the preseason finale against Houston last Friday night, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Selected by the Spurs in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft with the 30th overall pick, Anderson is starting his third season with the franchise.

The Spurs signed six-time All-Star center/forward Pau Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, this summer to help fill the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

Gasol played the last two seasons with the Chicago Bulls before becoming a free agent. He will team with five-time All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to give San Antonio one of the best frontcourt tandems in the league.

Point guard Tony Parker, starting his 16th season with the Silver and Black, and forward Kawhi Leonard will join Gasol and Aldridge in the starting lineup Tuesday night.Leonard has been the league's defensive player of the year each of the past two seasons. Anderson likely will start for Green again, but considering Golden State is the opponent, that’s not a certainty.

“We have an incredible team here with a lot of talent, with a lot of experience,” Gasol said. “We have to figure out as we go along how we can be or get to the best level, our level, our best level, which I think could be the highest level.”

Gasol, 36, averaged 16.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2 blocks last season. A four-time All-NBA pick, he also was named an All-Star.

Popovich described Gasol as “a wonderful guy” who always has been a “great” teammate.

“He could fit in anywhere,” Popovich said.

Aldridge, who was the Spurs’ big free-agent acquisition last year, was asked about playing Golden State in the opener.

“It’s a basketball game, so it doesn’t matter who it is,” he said. “It’s about us going out every night trying to get better.”

The Spurs signed two other free agents, David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon, to help strengthen their frontcourt depth. Popovich was asked what he thinks of the team’s chemistry heading into the season.

“From what I can see, they sort of like each other,” Popovich said. “Nobody’s been in a fight. Nobody refuses to talk to somebody else. They’ll all be on the bus together and the plane together, so I think they’re getting along pretty good.”

While Duncan will continue to cast a big shadow over the Spurs for years tocome, Ginobili said the team also will miss veterans Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner. Diaw was traded to Utah in July and Bonner was not re-signed after winning two titles in 10 seasons with the Spurs.

“We forget how important Boris (Diaw) and Matt (Bonner) were to this team, too,” Ginobili said. “So, we’re going to miss all three. But we got some additions. We’ve got to involve them, too, and know that he (Duncan) is not coming back and we have to face it. But, for sure, all three are going to be very missed.”

After playing Golden State, the Spurs will remain in California to play Sacramento on Thursday night. They play New Orleans in their home opener at 7 p.m. Saturday. 

(© 2016 KENS)


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