Attempting to read the mind of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is a dangerous proposition, but here it goes: Although the Spurs will be completing their second straight back-to-back and playing their fourth game in five nights, look for starting center Tim Duncan to play in their showdown against the Thunder on Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Duncan sat out of Monday night’s last-second loss at Memphis, which came one day after San Antonio’s last second-loss at home against the Miami Heat. The Spurs (55-19) host Orlando tonight at AT&T Center and then hop a plane to OKC for Thursday’s contest against the Thunder (54-20) in a key battle for the No. 1 playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Popovich possibly placed greater emphasis on Thursday’s game, which is why he sat the 36-year-old Duncan against the Grizzlies. If tonight’s contest against the Magic is a blowout as envisioned, Duncan will have a chance to rest the night before facing the Thunder.
Then again, Popovich could do a spin move and sit Duncan tonight against Orlando to provide complete rest for the OKC game. The Spurs already are without sixth man Manu Ginobili, who will miss 3-4 weeks with a strained hamstring. Forward Kawhi Leonard also is nursing a sore knee, as is Duncan.
San Antonio and OKC both close the season with challenging schedules. The Spurs have a back-to-back on the road next Sunday and Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State. Meanwhile, the Thunder completes a back-to-back after facing the Spurs with a game at Indiana on Friday, less than 24 hours after its 8:30 p.m. (TNT) start against San Antonio.
An OKC victory Thursday night would tie its season series against San Antonio at 2 and the Thunder would have a 2.5-game advantage in the next playoff tiebreaker, which is overall conference record. With a win Thursday, OKC would be 35-13 in conference play and San Antonio would be 32-15.
The reinvigorated Duncan is having arguably the finest season ever for an NBA player his age. You can access stories about Duncan here in articles written by Dan McCarney of the San Antonio News-Express and Sam Amick of USA Today.
- John Rohde