SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs spent the lockout-shortened regular season resisting the inevitable comparisons to the one in 1999, when they won their first of four championships.
But now that it's over?
"I guess if you look back and compare, yeah, it's a lot like that," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said Saturday. "We hope it ends like that, too."
They'll find out starting Sunday when the Spurs open the playoffs against Utah carrying their sixth No. 1 seed in the Duncan era. The Jazz, coincidentally, were arguably San Antonio's biggest threat heading into those 1999 playoffs, but Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich are the only relics left.
Not even Jerry Sloan is still around, making this the first time since 1988 the Jazz are entering the playoffs without their iconic former coach at the helm. Instead, successor Ty Corbin has rode the emerging frontcourt of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap back to the postseason.
So it's not 1999, but it's like plenty of NBA seasons since: Another young up-and-comer trying to finally finish off the Spurs legacy.
"This is not like, OK, you get a sticker for making the playoffs, you get one star and you can go home at recess," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "We want to compete in the playoffs."
Competing will be easier with Josh Howard back. The nine-year veteran returned for Utah's final two games this week after missing a month following knee surgery, but he didn't start. Corbin hasn't ruled out Howard reclaiming his starting spot for Game 1 but won't say until Sunday.
That uncertainty is a situation the Spurs know all too well this time of year.
Since winning their last championship in 2007, the Spurs have spent every postseason with one of their Big Three laboring through injury or out altogether. Manu Ginobili finished 2008 slowed by a bum ankle, sat out the 2009 playoffs entirely and sheathed his elbow in a bulky cast last year after being hurt in the regular season finale.
Duncan was also never the same after spraining his ankle last March, helping doom the Spurs to becoming just the fourth No. 1 seed to fall in the first round. For as dominant as the Spurs have been in the regular season the last two years — to the tune of a 111-37 record — their playoff record since 2009 is 7-14, winning just one series.
Ginobili said his fluky injury in last year's regular season finale never discouraged him about the Spurs' chances then.