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Gregg Popovich to Spurs players: 'It's your job' to come ready to play

CHICAGO -- San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol walked down the hall at the United Center, headed straight toward the wrong locker room before his team's 95-91 loss to the Bulls on Thursday night.

For Gasol, who played two seasons in Chicago, and the rest of his San Antonio teammates, that's the type of night the Spurs endured Thursday. Their effort drew the ire of coach Gregg Popovich, who called out some of his underperforming players, saying "guys get a lot of money to be ready to play."

Asked whether it was his job to make sure the Spurs were ready to play, Popovich said, "I don't remember playing tonight. No Knute Rockne speeches. It's your job. If you're a plumber and you don't do your job, you don't get any work. I don't think a plumber needs a pep talk. A doctor botches operations, and he's not a doctor anymore. If you're a basketball player, you come ready. It's called maturity. It's your job."

The Spurs entered the contest with an 814-815 record all time on the road -- including a 13-0 mark this season -- and blew an opportunity to become the only NBA franchise with a .500 road record all time, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Had the Spurs defeated the Bulls, San Antonio would have tied Golden State's record last season for consecutive road wins (14) to start a season.

Dating to Nov. 25, the Spurs trailed by double digits in seven of their past eight outings, yet they found a way to win in all but two of those contests, including Thursday's loss. The Bulls led by 13 at the half and increased their lead to 18 points in the third quarter.

San Antonio couldn't chop Chicago's lead to fewer than six points until there was 4:04 left to play.

"We played 24 minutes again, as we have for about the last 10 games," Popovich said. "We go through the motions in the first half. I think we shot one free throw in the first half. We shot four or so the second half. But we played harder in the second half. I don't know if we played much smarter. Our opponents have outplayed us physically and execution-wise in most first halves for most of the season. So now we pull it together in the second half and played harder and smarter and got it to [a] four[-point deficit].

"That's the disappointing part: We're not a very consistent team, and we haven't learned as a group that the game is 48 minutes. We also have some people playing very poorly. You have to participate in your own recovery. Some players have to play better."

The Spurs haven't conducted an actual practice since Nov. 7 in part because of their demanding schedule, and the club sporadically conducts pregame shootarounds. But none of the players blamed the lack of workout time for the team's recent struggles, as Popovich traditionally chooses rest time over grueling practices.

"It's been happening to us in most of the games that we come out not with the same edge," Gasol said. "That we come out in the second half, and because of the talent and quality of play, we're able to make up ground in the second half against teams and we've ended up winning most of them. We've got to be able to play for 48 minutes the same way, and that's something that really hasn't happened yet for us."

Kawhi Leonard scored a game-high 24 points, but LaMarcus Aldridge struggled, hitting 5-of-15 for 10 points; he is shooting 8-of-23 in his past two outings.

Gasol contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Manu Ginobili finished 0-of-9 from the field and failed to score.

"I don't know what's going on," said point guard Tony Parker, who returned to the lineup from a bruised knee after missing the club's Dec. 6 win over Minnesota. "It's been almost the whole season. I don't know why we have slow starts. We just have to respond, everybody, individually, and make sure we play for 48 minutes. Everybody has to do more to make sure we have good starts, make sure we bring more energy, more juice, and we have to get excited. You've got to want it at least the same as the other team."

For almost a month, that has been the narrative in San Antonio. Yet the team hasn't found a way to remedy the issues. In fact, Popovich mentioned it "won't all be fixed," adding that "playing harder is the part that bothers me, the lack of fiber, of grunt."

Popovich has called Parker a steadying influence. The coach admitted that with Parker missing eight games because of injury and franchise stalwart Tim Duncan no longer in the picture, "it's tougher for the other guys to find their place and get as organized as we were in the past."

Several Spurs players said Popovich scolded the team after the game for what he perceived as a lack of effort.

"Like any coach, he wanted us to play harder," Leonard said of Popovich. "He felt like we only played hard for 24 minutes in the game. We've just got to bring energy. We just want to play better, play hard, smart. It's not gonna just happen. There's gonna [have to] be some carryover going into two, three, four, five games, and then gradually it becomes second nature."