With sizable leads in the Southwest Division and the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs have started looking ahead to the postseason by giving their top players some rest.
Given their 25-game home winning streak against the Golden State Warriors heading into Monday night’s game between the teams, it may not matter who Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decides to rest.
With a 7 1/2-game advantage over Dallas, San Antonio (56-13) is closing in on its eighth division title in 11 seasons. The NBA’s best team also has a 6 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers for the West’s No. 1 seed.
That helped make it easy for Popovich to give star forward Tim Duncan(notes) his first night off this season Saturday as the Spurs defeated visiting Charlotte 109-98. Starting guard Manu Ginobili(notes) also played just 19 minutes - far below his season average of nearly 31.
Rookie Tiago Splitter(notes) got his first NBA start in place of Duncan, but it was reserve forward Steve Novak(notes) who proved more pivotal with a season-high 19 points. Fellow bench players Gary Neal(notes) added 15 points and George Hill(notes) had 12.
“It was great to have the bench come in, so Manu (Ginobili) wouldn’t have to play too many minutes,” Popovich said. “I wanted to play Tony (Parker) even less, but he’s the youngster of the group. Everyone off the bench came in and did a great job.”
Even with his team’s large leads in the division and conference, Ginobili said the Spurs starters might get only get one or two nights off over the final 3 1/2 weeks of the regular season.
“We got to keep in shape and keep playing. Because when you realize the playoffs are here you don’t want to lose your conditioning,” Ginobili said.
The Spurs’ conditioning has rarely been an issue of late against the fast-paced Warriors (30-40). The 25-game run at home is the NBA’s longest active streak against one opponent, and San Antonio has won 11 in a row in the series.
Duncan played just 18 minutes in a 111-94 win over Golden State at the AT&T Center on Dec. 8, finishing with eight points and five rebounds. Parker, meanwhile, had 19 points to lead six players in double figures. DeJuan Blair(notes) was one of those with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Golden State got a career-high eight 3-pointers and 31 points from Reggie Williams(notes) in that game, but Stephen Curry(notes) sprained his right ankle in the second quarter. Curry was held to 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting Sunday when the Warriors suffered their fourth consecutive defeat and fourth in a row on the road, 101-73 at Dallas.
Golden State, averaging 103.1 points, had just 10 in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks and missed 24 of 33 shots in the second half. The 73 points were the team’s second lowest-scoring total this season.
“It was just an off night for guys. Guys couldn’t find their shot,” forward Dorell Wright(notes) said. “I feel like shots that we usually make were going in and out, and we were just missing it. It’s like that at some times. So, we’ve just got to let this one go and get ready for tomorrow.”
Ginobili has averaged 20.5 points on 54.0 percent shooting in his last four games against Golden State. San Antonio has also limited the Warriors’ Monta Ellis(notes) to 18.7 points - 5.7 below his team-leading average - on 34.8 percent shooting.