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Old 02-26-09, 04:43 AM
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NBA.com: Parker, Spurs not missing beat with Duncan, Ginobili out
Parker, Spurs not missing beat with Duncan, Ginobili out
By Art Garcia

SAN ANTONIO -- Forget the Rodeo Trip. The Spurs may be better off after the Rodeo Return.

A three-game homestand this week against three playoff contenders, one with serious title aspirations, could be the bonding exercise Gregg Popovich didn't get during the recently-completed annual trek mandated by the rodeo taking charge of the AT&T Center. The eight straight games played on the road this season left Pop, well, dissatisfied.

"It was just too disjointed to get out of it what you want to get out of it," he said. "We want to get the bunker mentality."

Instead, the Spurs got too many starts and stops, and too many trips home for a team that was supposed to be on the road. The first two games were followed by a four-day break, which meant a return to San Antonio. Three more games preceded the All-Star break before the final three games.

The Spurs never bunkered down because it never really felt as if they were gone. Now, they're back on their home floor and at least two familiar faces are gone. San Antonio has played two straight games without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Whatever adversity was lacking on the road has been made up tenfold. The effort from the guys that remain looks to be up that much, as the Spurs completed a rare home back-to-back by outlasting Portland 99-84 Wednesday night.

Tony Parker has done his part to overcome the loss of his famous cohorts. Just 24 hours after torching Dallas for 37 points and 12 assists, Parker one-upped himself by ripping the Blazers for 39 and 9. Friday's foe, Cleveland, has no doubt noticed.

"I prepared myself today," said Parker, referring to Duncan's late scratch the previous night.

"Speed is an important thing and he has speed," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said of Parker. "We tried every defense ... but he was like a roadrunner just blowing by us."

While Parker is doing his part to take the pressure off his teammates, the win was another example of San Antonio team basketball. The frontcourt of Matt Bonner and Kurt Thomas combined for a Duncan-like 23 points and 19 rebounds. Michael Finley had an efficient 13 points and six boards.

And then there was the Spurs' suffocating defense. One night after limiting the league's fifth-leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki to 14 points, eighth-leading scorer Brandon Roy also had just 14. Nowitzki shot 5-of-15. Roy, 5-of-18. The Mavericks hit just 34 percent from the floor. Portland, 38 percent.

"Tonight was similar to last night," Popovich said. "Our team defense was outstanding."

The Spurs obviously don't want to go too long without two of their studs. The hope is Duncan returns Friday with the Cavaliers in town, while Ginobili is likely looking at sometime next month. In the interim, Parker and his band of "no-names" are meshing together quite well.

It's not the Rodeo Trip, but one veteran of those extended vacations understands the positives that can come out of this week.

"We just want to continue to pound on the rock, as we talk about," Spurs designated stopper Bruce Bowen said. "And get better on the little things, as far as the defensive side. We understand that to do the things we want to do in the postseason, we have to pick up our defense."

This would seem to be a good time to catch the Spurs and make up some ground on the West's second-place squad.

"No question," McMillan said. "But it also presents an opportunity for some of the other players. Of course it does. Whenever guys are missing, and key guys like that, it's a different team."

A team the Mavericks and Blazers, two teams trailing San Antonio in the standings, couldn't beat. San Antonio has won four in row and is in position to compete a character-enhancing home sweep Friday against the LeBrons.

"You never know when you're going to have an opportunity in this game and guys are getting those opportunities," Bowen said. "We've been able to take advantage of it before. I'm glad guys are taking advantage of it."
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