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Spurs adapting to being back in their practice facility and living with challenges of COVID-19

Silver and Black getting back in the swing of playing basketball again after the NBA season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus.
Credit: Antonio Morano | Special to kens5.com
Forward DeMar DeRozan, shooting against the Dallas Mavericks, led the Spurs in scoring and assists before the season was suspended March 11.

SAN ANTONIO — Veteran Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan could have been speaking for the entire NBA when he talked about returning to play basketball while the country continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge," DeRozan said in a Zoom call with the media on Thursday. "There's so much uncertainty."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended the season March 11 after Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the deadly coronavirus.

The Silver and Black are among the 22 NBA teams that will resume the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla., on July 31. All games will be played at the Walt Disney World Resort, which will be the league's headquarters through the end of the Finals.

Per the NBA calendar, teams opened training camps this week at their local practice facilities and will travel to Orlando next week.

"Every day has been so out of the ordinary, obviously," DeRozan said. "Just getting back, coming into the gym, and getting a feel for it has kind of been a challenge. You're coming into the gym and seeing your teammates, and that's kind of like your sanctuary where you get to be able to laugh, joke, compete with your teammates.

"Coming into the gym now, you get tested before you come in the gym. Limited people in the gym. You may see two or three other teammates in the gym. So, it's been a challenge. But for the most part, we try to make the best of it. Being able to just be in the gym is something beneficial."

DeRozan was asked what the COVID-19 tests are like.

"The nose test is kind of tricky," he said. "It brings a couple of tears down your eyes. But everything else, not too bad. The saliva test, doing that every other day, trying to stay on top of things, be healthy as long as possible. It's not too brutal."

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Second-year Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan led the team in scoring (22.2) and assists (5.6) before the NBA season was suspended March 11.

All players, coaches, and NBA officials will be sequestered at the Disney World Resort "bubble" for the duration. The Spurs will play the Sacramento Kings in their first game since they beat the Dallas Mavericks on March 10 at the AT&T Center.

The NBA's list of 22 teams that will resume the season is composed of 16 squads that were in position for playoff spots when the season was suspended and six others that were within six games of the No. 8 seed in their respective conferences.

San Antonio (27-36) trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by four games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference when the season was suspended March 11.

The Silver and Black were 12th in the West standings with 19 games left on their schedule but trailed ninth-place Portland by only a half-game in the ultra-competitive West.

"Coming back is a second chance for everybody," DeRozan said. "It sucks that we couldn't play out the last 20, 21 games, however many games we had left, to really give ourselves a chance. I felt that we were getting on a roll toward the end of the season. 

"This format is kind of a tricky situation because you've got to hope for other things to go wrong, and you damn near have to go out there and be perfect. It's kind of a tougher situation, honestly, if you look at it, for us to have another chance to get in there. But we'll see how things play out."

All 22 teams will play eight games in a span of 16 days. There's also the possibility of a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each conference. If the No. 8 team is more than four games ahead of the No. 9 team, it advances directly to the postseason with the conference's top seven.

But if the No. 8 team is ahead by less than four games, a play-in would be necessary. The No. 8 team would have to beat the No. 9 squad once, or No. 9 would need to win twice to advance.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Spurs center Jakob Poeltl spent most of his time in San Antonio after the NBA season suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At least for the time being, the Spurs’ league record-tying playoff streak is still active.

The Silver and Black started their run of 22 consecutive playoff seasons in Tim Duncan’s rookie year. The Philadelphia 76ers began their streak in 1950 when the franchise played in Syracuse and was called the Nationals. The team moved to Philadelphia in 1964.

The Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since 1996-97 season when Duncan was a senior at Wake Forest. San Antonio selected Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft and went on to win five championships in 16 seasons.

The Silver and Black will play without power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who had surgery on his right shoulder in April and is out for the season.

The Spurs signed 7-foot journeyman center Tyler Zeller on June 24. Zeller has averaged 7.0 points, 4.4 points and 17.6 minutes in his career, but he hasn't played since the 2018-19 season.

"Obviously, with L.A. being out, we have less manpower on the big-man position," said Spurs center Jabob Poeltl, who also participated in Thursday's Zoom call. "It made sense for us to bring in another big to really help us out on the glass, on defense in the paint.

"I think he (Zeller) can definitely add a lot to the team there. He's an experienced guy. He's been in the league longer than any other big man on our team right now, so I think that could really help us out."