By Mike Monroe
The second half of the Spurs’ season begins tonight, and with it comes a degree of expectation the team’s coach meets with utter disdain.
Mathematically, the 30 victories Gregg Popovich’s players accumulated in their first 41 games portend another gaudy record by regular season’s end.
But he is having none of that.
Instead, Popovich remains focused only on the next game, starting with tonight’s contest at the AT&T Center against the Golden State Warriors.
The goal isn’t 60 wins, a division title or No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, he said. The ultimate goal — the team’s fifth NBA championship — can be achieved only by playing as well as possible, game by game, improving incrementally right through the playoffs.
Though he does not disagree with Popovich, Tim Duncan, halfway through his 16th season, understands the ebbs and flows of the 82-game grind enough to declare the first half of the season an absolute success, even if their record has dipped some since sitting atop the West in December.
“We’re in a good place right now,” he said. “We’ve had some rough times here, up and down. It’s good to have those times to kind of learn and ?refocus your team.
“We hope to have smooth sailing from now on. Obviously, that’s usually not the case. We’re going to go through a little bit more and continue to grow.
“It was a good first half of the season. Hopefully, we build on that from here.”
The Spurs (30-11) closed out the first half with a game Popovich called one of their best of the season, and there were obvious reasons for such a positive assessment.
Even without Manu Ginobili, their No. 3 scorer and emotional leader, the Spurs rediscovered the joy of sharing the basketball. They assisted on 33 of their 41 field goals against the Grizzlies, one of the league’s most aggressive defensive units as far as creating turnovers.
The brisk ball movement led to only 13 turnovers for the Spurs, their lowest total in two weeks.
Veteran swingman Stephen Jackson, who had a season-high five assists against Memphis, also gave his approval to what the Spurs accomplished in their first 41 games.
“There were about four or five games we should have had, but we can’t complain,” he said. “I think at this point, everybody’s happy.
“This is the NBA. You’re going to let some games slip. But to be where we’re at, we’re happy.
We’re close to the top of the West. We just have to continue to get better.”
The Warriors present the Spurs an opportunity to recalibrate their defense. They are one of about a third of the teams averaging at least 100 points, led by fourth-year guard Stephen Curry and his 20.5 points per game.
Curry sat out Wednesday’s loss to the Heat after suffering a right ankle injury during the team’s morning shootaround before the game. The club doesn’t believe the injury serious, but his status for tonight’s game is questionable.
Jarrett Jack, a Sixth Man Award candidate who is averaging 11.9 points per game and 5.1 assists, started in Curry’s place Wednesday.
Regardless of Curry’s status, the Spurs know the Warriors will try to push the pace.
“It’s going to be like Phoenix back in the day,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker said. “It’s going to be the same pace. I like it. It will be fun.
“We just have to make sure we stop them, make sure we play good defense.” Spurs Nation