The San Antonio Spurs have a much deserved reputation as one of the best coached teams in the NBA, a squad that knows its strategies, tactics, and individual roles within those efforts about as well as a group of basketball players can. While the Spurs are certainly not without top-level talent, it's telling that they are able to play so well when missing a list of major players that would doom most teams. No matter the circumstances, San Antonio comes across as a team that prepares as much and as effectively as possible.
It's somewhat of a surprise, then, to learn that the Spurs haven't had a real practice in more than a month. Currently near the end of a stretch of 20 games in 37 days, 11 of which have or will come on the road, head coach Gregg Popovich has foregone practicing entirely to keep his team fresh. In fact, he can't remember their last practice. From Mike Monroe for the San Antonio Express-News (via SLAM):
The November and December schedules have been so full of games and travel days that Popovich has chosen to use off days as rest days, including Sunday. Asked to recall the last practice, Popovich furrowed his brow, scratched his head and gave up.
“I can't remember,” he said.
In fact, the last real practice was Nov. 19, during a stretch of four days without a game after returning from a victory in Utah and preceding a home win over Boston. Popovich calls maintaining consistency the biggest challenge of long stretches without practice.
“There's always some slippage as far as execution is concerned,” he said. “You just play games. You don't get a chance to review or do any muscle memory things or get to the practice court.”
It's tempting to ascribe Popovich's comment to his usual sarcastic humor, but it's likely that he's telling the truth here. The Spurs have a relatively old core that's played together for many years, and coaches commonly hold such players out of practice during these sorts of stretches regardless. While it's possible that some players have been involved in workouts, the idea of a full practice seems like a poor use of time given the circumstances.
Regardless, this scenario makes the Spurs' performance over this time all the more impressive. Through the first 17 games of this practice-less stretch, the Spurs have gone 12-5, with each loss coming against a team that can claim an honest shot at making their conference finals, if not beyond. They've dealt with injuries to players as key as point guard Tony Parker, purposely sat veterans for games, and played up to their usual standard through it all. It's a testament to the franchise's identity and its virtually unheard of level of continuity for this era.
Preparation comes in many forms, and a full practice is arguably less important at the NBA level, where the athletes spend lots of time watching tape and receive more granular forms of instruction. However, it means something. The Spurs, as ever, have proven that they can do things a little differently and still thrive.
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