SAN ANTONIO -- Though experienced, the winningest trio in NBA history (575 wins) know not to underestimate the underdog Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, when the San Antonio Spurs host the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs at the AT&T Center.
While Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are relaxed coming off a season in which the Spurs ran off a franchise-record 67 wins, it also understands the club’s whirlwind regular-season success would be rendered meaningless with an early-round exit.
“We didn’t play the way we did this season just to be on vacation [after] a few games,” Ginobili said. “It’s exciting -- the pressure, the responsibility in the fact we have another shot at making something big happen.”
To do it, the Spurs need to snap out of the inconsistent play they put on display toward the end of the regular season. That’s not to say San Antonio played badly. But injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge and Boris Diaw certainly didn’t help a Spurs team looking to catch a rhythm headed into the postseason, after resting nearly the entire roster at different times on the heels of clinching no worse than the No. 2 seed in the playoffs back in March.
The Spurs haven’t put together a full, 48-minute performance since their March 23 win over the Miami Heat. From March 25 through April 5, San Antonio rested multiple players in every game before sending out its full roster -- minus Diaw -- for an April 7 matchup at Golden State.
The Spurs rested more players the next night at Denver, but started to play more of the core players in two of the last three regular-season games as they looked to build momentum and rhythm headed into the postseason.
“You know, when the playoffs begin, everything is heightened,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Competitiveness goes up and poise becomes really important -- not skipping steps and understanding what it takes to win. So hopefully, we have enough experience to understand that.”
Obviously, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili understand that more than others on San Antonio’s roster. Parker freely admitted Saturday that he “can’t wait for tomorrow” because “that’s why we play all season long, to try to get to the playoffs and win a championship.”
But Parker plans to take a measured approach against the wounded Grizzlies, who utilized an NBA-record 28 players during the regular season after a rash of injuries.
“I think it’s important to respect everybody,” Parker said. “Even if you’re the favorite, anything can happen. You still can have injuries, and it can go fast. You have to stay focused and only focused on Memphis, not all around us or on the media.”
That’s partly what Duncan enjoys most about the postseason, “just the intensity,” he said. “The focus is more there. You’re more prepared. You’re not jumping from team to team and having a day to prepare. You have an extended period of time and multiple games against these guys, and you have to make adjustments on the fly. There’s a lot less secrets, and a lot more going out there and just executing.”
Teammates since the 2002-03 season, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have played in 778 games together under Popovich, who ranks No. 8 in all-time wins (1,089). So what the trio might lack physically should be bridged by collective experience.
Parker struggled last season during the playoffs with hamstring issues, but now is fully healthy. So are Duncan and Ginobili. Duncan fought through knee soreness back in December; Ginobili underwent testicular surgery in February.
The trio admits it will approach the postseason with a sense of urgency, given this could be the group’s last shot at a title. Duncan turns 40 next week. Ginobili is 38 and Parker is 33.
“For sure, there’s a sense of urgency,” Ginobili said. “You want to win. You don’t want to go home after two weeks. Regardless, I’m a little more mature after a while to know how to learn from the losses and don’t be too pumped up after a win; find a balance.”
Added Parker: “It’s a great opportunity for everybody. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to win a championship. I feel like this year, we have a great team, and we can do something. Now we just have to prove it and go play.”