Spurs, Thunder ready for Western Conference Finals
By Chris Derrett
SAN ANTONIO -- Gregg Popovich asked a reporter if he had been "smoking that Colorado stuff lately" at the Spurs' practice on Saturday. The reporter had asked if the Spurs could build off any successes the team enjoyed in its four losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the regular season.
The Spurs coach scoffed at the suggestion of any success whatsoever and said regardless, the results from those games don't matter entering the 2014 Western Conference finals.
"What's happened in the past has nothing to do with what's going to happen now," coach Gregg Popovich said at Sunday's practice. "This person could have a great game, that person could have a poor game. That's what the playoffs are all about -- people stepping up. So we'll just see what happens."
The Spurs and Thunder meet for Game 1 of the series at 8 p.m. today in San Antonio. What does matter are several questions -- Tony Parker's health, Serge Ibaka's absence and both teams' adjustments -- that won't be fully resolved until tipoff.
Taking a breather
Beating the Portland Trail Blazers had its advantages for the Spurs, namely some time off during the grind of the NBA playoffs.
"Whatever it is, it's used to the best of your ability," Popovich said of the break in game action. "A little bit of rest, a little bit of work to stay in shape. It's always different; it just has to be managed."
The Spurs haven't used the time for much lounging, though.
"For the whole team, it was great. We had some good practices and went through a lot of stuff that we can do better," Tony Parker said.
Parker says he's ready
Despite leaving Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals with a hamstring injury, Parker said he feels good about playing tonight.
"It's doing better, hopefully even better tomorrow (Monday)," said Parker, who admitted the hamstring is still sore.
Parker didn't remember a particular play that caused the injury and said he watched the rest of Game 5 in the locker room. He attributed Patty Mills' effort off the bench to aggression and hitting the open shots the Trail Blazers were conceding.
Teammate Boris Diaw said Parker practiced well on Sunday.
"He looked good, nothing too bad. I think he's running alright, so he should be OK," Diaw said.
When Parker heard Ibaka was ruled out of the Western Conference finals with a calf injury, he wasn't fully convinced.
"I don't really believe it. I'll believe it when I see it (Monday), when he's not on the court. It's hard to believe," Parker said.
But with even Thunder general manager Sam Presti saying the injury will likely knock Ibaka out of the entire postseason, the focus shifts to adjustments by both teams.
Whether the Thunder go with a smaller lineup or stay conventional, the Spurs' defensive attention could move further away from the basket with the lack of jump shooting threat Ibaka brings as a big man.
"It might shift the center of focus defensively to focus a little more on (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant," Diaw said.
Diaw wouldn't say what the team is anticipating, if anything, concerning Oklahoma City's lineups.
"That's something you'll have to talk (about) with Pop," Diaw said.
Of course, Popovich wasn't talking about the gameplan, either.
"It's really a waste of time," Popovich said. "When the game starts, everybody will know what's going on, and everybody will adjust both ways."
Bear down, speed up
The loss of Ibaka will undoubtedly turn up the pressure to score for the Thunder backcourt. That's where Kawhi Leonard will defend Durant, whether Durant is trying to score from the small forward or power forward position. Leonard said he's seen film of players like Memphis' Tony Allen successfully containing Durant but won't rely on that in the conference finals.
"I've seen a few possessions with Tony Allen and the Clippers. I try to see what they do good. But we could have a totally different team concept on stopping (Durant) or stopping the Thunder," Leonard said.
Being more active on the offensive end could slow Durant down with fatigue, Leonard added.