GDHQNBA15_2pg-San Antonio Spurs

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WESTERN CONFERENCE SOUTHWEST DIVISION San Antonio Once again, the San Antonio Spurs reside at the top of the NBA after winning their fifth title as a franchise, all of which have come under current head coach Gregg Popovich, universally regarded as the top head coach in the entire Association. The Spurs’ veteran trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker again played their customary starring roles in San Antonio’s latest run to championship glory. But this time it was a relative newcomer, Kawhi Leonard, who was front and center as the newest star of the group, showing some opportune offense along with his trademark defense. And after being named 2014 NBA Finals MVP, Leonard is no longer unknown outside of San Antonio. Being the reigning champs is not a new feeling for Popovich and company, but for all they have accomplished, the Spurs have never repeated. But with most of their cast returning, they will remain a contender until they are officially unseated. OFFENSE Leonard has missed much of preseason with an eye infection and it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to get back to speed with his teammates. He remains an important member of a starting five that also features Parker, Danny Green, Duncan and strong interior presence Tiago Splitter. Ginobili, 37, is over the stress fracture in his right foot and the veteran guard is ready to again lead the Spurs’ second unit. “I’m good and ready to go,” he said at the start of training camp. “I’ve been cleared to do everything. Just gradually increasing the amount of impact.” Besides Ginobili, the Spurs again expect solid bench production from Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw, both long-range threats, and budding Parker understudy, Cory Joseph. However, the news isn’t so good on three-point specialist Patty Mills, diagnosed with a torn right rotator cuff over the summer and after surgery, he is expected to miss between six and seven months, which would put his return sometime in February or March 2014. Joseph, Parker’s primary backup at the point who played 68 games last season, is expected to step up in Mills’ absence, a role he welcomes. “I’m the type of guy I feel like every time I’m on the court, I play hard,” Joseph said. “I give it my all. If my name’s called, I’ll be ready. Every time I go out on the court, I look at it as an opportunity.” Duncan, 38, is also back and the veteran big man could be an even better shooter in this, the final year of his current contract. “I’m trying to get my shot back. I think I really kind of slacked on it last year and didn’t shoot the ball real well,” Duncan said. “I’m trying to get back to the point where I shot it the year before. Just trying to understand where my spots are, where my effective spots are in the offense we’re running now and when I do get the ball, being able to make shots and make plays for them.” Parker, who signed a three-year extension that will allow him to finish his career as a Spur, is also back. And after getting rest for parts of last season, he too is ready to get things started. “I feel fresh, feel like I’m rested. I’m focused with the Spurs on trying to repeat,” Parker said. DEFENSE Popovich has always been a coach who has preached the merits of defense and considering the incredible success the Spurs have experienced, it’s hard to argue with the results. San Antonio was again a strong defensive team last season and that mentality was a big reason why they ended the Miami Heat’s run of two straight NBA titles. Having most of that cast return for a shot at repeating for the first time in franchise history makes things easier on everyone. And after getting every member of his roster back to square one at the start of training camp, Popovich knows what to expect from every member of his roster and his players in turn also know what lies ahead, not just in preseason but over the course of an 82-game regular season because a majority of them have been there and done that. “I worry more about the younger players on the team,” Popovich said. “I’m not worried a bit about Tony and Manu and Timmy. They know how hard it is to get there. They’re not going to try to take a victory lap or anything like that this year. They’ll come ready.” That continuity is something the Spurs players don’t take for granted because they know how rare it is in today’s NBA, especially for a reigning champion, a team who often sees several players poached by Tony Parker (#9) and Tim Duncan (#21) xxxxxxxx/NBAE/Getty Images


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