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Old 12-20-12, 12:43 PM
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Buck Harvey: Spurs continue in first? Poppy as Pop

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Doug Moe drove to Austin on Wednesday for the North Carolina shootaround, and he had plans to stay to watch his Tar Heels play Texas.

But then he heard what one of his granddaughters had said: “I can’t believe Poppy will miss my birthday party.”

So Moe drove back to San Antonio, fitting in the middle school basketball game of another granddaughter along the way. Told he was living an active retirement, he laughed.

“I’m skilled,” he said.

As the years pass, people forget how much. He was an earlier version of Gregg Popovich, with similar self-deprecation and originality. Moe coached the game differently, and he saw the game differently, and that applies still today.

After all, the Spurs had the league’s sixth-best record entering Wednesday’s games.

But not according to Moe.

Moe is 74 now, and he’s had a few health scares. But he gets around, such as a trip this fall to watch the Maui Classic.

Whereas he once split time in Denver, he’s settled in as a fulltime San Antonio resident. He occasionally bumps into Popovich, but that’s mostly because they live in the same part of town. Moe doesn’t attend many Spurs games, and when he does, he prefers not to bother Popovich.

But from afar? Does he see the similarities?

“If you want to say that,” Moe joked again, “I’d be unbelievably happy.”

Moe is a more affable personality, and he tried to get his teams to play a faster pace. But on opposite ends of the 40th anniversary the Spurs franchise is currently celebrating, Poppy and Pop have more in common.

Their ties to Larry Brown are one, and their desire to not wear ties is another. Moe dressed, someone once wrote, “like a taxicab with its doors open every day.”

Moe, too, won coach of the year, and when he screamed at his players, it was usually about defense. Moe also won more games in Spurs history than any coach except for Popovich.

He went on to more success in Denver but, like Popovich, Moe took little credit. “My whole life, I’ve managed to establish myself as a complete fool,” Moe once said. “Therefore, any success I’ve had has looked like an upset.”

As for doing something unconventional, such as sending four starters home before a TNT game, Moe laughed. “Oh, I might have done something like that.”

Like this: Moe, sick of watching his team struggle defensively, instructed his players to stand still and not play any defense in the final minute of a blowout loss.

Moe was known for a one-page playbook, while Popovich’s schemes can be detailed. But while the Spurs don’t run Moe’s freelance passing game, the results look similar.

“Pop gives them a lot of freedom,” Moe said. “The Spurs play together well, they’re unselfish, they have good basketball instincts, and they are willing to move the ball. That’s all I ever wanted.”

That’s a reason Moe doesn’t think the Spurs’ recent losses mean much. He says they have as good a chance to win the title “as anyone if they are healthy,” and one of his longtime formulas supports that.

In the mid-’80s, Moe came up with a simple, plus-minus system that many around the league still refer to. Then, trying to figure out how to judge midseason records that were often “out of whack” because of home-road differences, Moe thought this made sense:

Take away a point for every home loss, add a point for every road win, then rank the teams by that number.

So, going by Moe’s system, tied for second entering Wednesday’s games were the Knicks and the surprising Warriors.

And in first?:drummer:drummer

The Spurs.

The Spurs of Pop and Poppy.
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