Spurs' loss on strange night should strengthen team for postseason

LOS ANGELES -- They could have mentioned the challenges dumped along the path, but no San Antonio Spurs player uttered excuses Thursday night after a sloppy 105-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Fresh off the All-Star break, the Spurs are in the midst of a 6,500-mile road trip where additional mileage was tacked on for some -- coach Gregg Popovich flew to Oklahoma City with assistant James Borrego, general manager R.C. Buford and forwards Tim Duncan and David West to attend the funeral service for Monty Williams' wife, Ingrid, who died Feb. 10 after being in a car accident the night before.

San Antonio trudged through one strange, emotional day on Thursday, which should only make the club stronger.

"They had the same break we did," West snapped when asked whether the Spurs fought to shake off rust early in scoring 34 points in the first half, before scoring 29 in the third quarter alone.

"No excuses," power forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "We just had one of those nights where guys didn't play as good as they should have. They definitely competed at a high level, and we never found our offensive rhythm."

San Antonio's contingent for Williams' funeral skipped practice on Wednesday to fly to Oklahoma City. In the hours leading into tipoff on Thursday, it was unclear whether Popovich and the rest of the Spurs attending the services would make it back in time. In fact, assistant Ettore Messina was the club's contingency plan at head coach.

The group landed in Los Angeles approximately two hours prior to tipoff and received a police escort to Staples Center, with Duncan making his way down a hallway to hit the locker room first, followed by West and eventually Popovich.

Then, less than an hour before tipoff, the Spurs announced All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard would miss the game due to tightness in his left calf, an injury suffered on the first night of the team's annual rodeo trip at Miami, according to Popovich.

"We've just got to be that much more sharp," Aldridge said when asked about the team being short-handed. "We gave up some easy shots in the first half, and I thought that got them going for the second half. We didn't execute defensively on some plays, on some pick-and-rolls, and they got some easy shots. I thought they had some easy looks early."

If San Antonio received similar looks, it certainly failed to take advantage. Three Spurs scored in double figures, led by Tony Parker with 14, West with 12 and Aldridge with 10. But just three players shot better than 50 percent on the night (Kyle Anderson, West and Rasual Butler). Up until the 2:37 mark of the third quarter, Anderson was the only Spur shooting better than 50 percent.

"Guys have to play better," Popovich said. "David West had a pretty good game. Kyle Anderson had a pretty good game. Everybody else was pretty poor. That is not going to get it done in the NBA. More guys have to play well. That's the bottom line."

The loss to the Clippers goes down as San Antonio's first in this eight-game road trip after the team secured victories Feb. 9 and Feb. 10 at Miami and Orlando. Starting with the second of a back-to-back set Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Spurs close out the rodeo trip with five games over a span of eight days before heading back home March 2 to San Antonio, where they'll host the Detroit Pistons.

Leonard's potential return will be a game-time decision Friday, Popovich said, and the Spurs are still missing Manu Ginobili as he recovers from testicular surgery.

But even with the recent adversity, the team knows the rodeo trip strengthens the locker room bonds and fortitude necessary to burn the competition in the postseason. San Antonio owns a record of 77-35 over the past 13 seasons during its annual rodeo trip.

One loss on one strange night shouldn't change anything.

"We win together, we lose together," West said. "The group didn't play at a high enough level to win a road game against a good team in their building."