Posted on Sun, Jan. 18, 2009
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich enjoys doing things his way
By JAN HUBBARD
Before the first game of the season between the Spurs and Suns, Shaquille O’Neal was complaining about the Hack-a-Shaq strategy employed by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs had repeatedly fouled O’Neal in the playoffs last year, and O’Neal, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter, didn’t like it. He called it "cowardly."
Jerry Brewer — a reporter for the East Valley Tribune, a suburban newspaper in the Phoenix area — told Popovich he should foul O’Neal as soon as the game started.
How many coaches do you know would take a suggestion from a reporter? There may be one, and Brewer was talking to him.
So five seconds after the opening tap of the season, Popovich had Michael Finley foul O’Neal, who was clearly stunned. But then he looked at Popovich, who was laughing and giving Shaq the thumbs-up sign, and O’Neal got it.
It was a joke.
And that’s Popovich, who is every bit the iconoclast.
He is a funny, intelligent man, but he has no use for dumb questions or in-game interviews that are mandatory for NBA coaches. That led to a highlight on ESPN Wednesday night when his focus on playing the Lakers was interrupted by the requisite interview.
The first question was OK, so he answered it. The second question was regarding how he planned on stopping Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter.
The look on Popovich’s face would have melted concrete, but he managed to rein it back to sheer sarcasm.
"I probably have no idea," he said abruptly.
Anyone who has dealt with Popovich’s biting humor burst out laughing.
The game was a thriller with the Spurs winning 112-111. Popovich is one of the premier defensive coaches in the league, but was asked after the game if he could appreciate the great offensive performance of both teams.
"Do I look thrilled?" he answered, wryly.
With a veteran team, Popovich has a different approach than most NBA coaches. He does not have gameday shootarounds at home. He’d rather his players rest.
This year, he introduced Yoga as a weekly exercise, and the players seemed to embrace it.
He demands players to play hard and be efficient, but he doesn’t worry about home-court advantage in the playoffs or what the team record is in December. And he is the first to admit that part of that luxury is courtesy of Tim Duncan.
So it’s not a surprise that with the Spurs facing their most brutal stretch of the season that Popovich is looking forward to it. A week from today, San Antonio begins a 12-game stretch with 11 of those games on the road.
In early February, eight of those games are on the road because the Spurs have to vacate their arena while the rodeo is in town. It happens every year and the Spurs refer to it as "the rodeo trip."
Popovich loves it.
"It’s old news and trite by now, but I’ll say it again," Popovich said. "We try to use the rodeo trip as a silver lining — being on the road so much — and try to come together, realizing it’s tougher on the road and get a little bit of a bunker mentality and develop a little bit of that edge we talk about.
"If you can win on the road, theoretically you can win at home, and win on the road come playoff time. It really changes things up. It’s a good test and a good measure of where we are at the time playoffs come, so we look forward to that challenge."
The Spurs will not be away the entire time, however. They have four days between one set of road games and will spend it at home. And there is also the five-day All-Star break that will separate another set of road games.
Still, it’s tough to play that many games away from home, so we’ll learn something about the Spurs. From Popovich’s viewpoint, however, it’s more important that they learn about themselves.
He said it.
"Ya’ll need to start playing some of that Superman theme music in the building when he’s going like that. This is Clark Kent right here, ladies and gentleman. He was 13-for-26 tonight with 39 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Superman. I’ll be Batman, I’ll be Robin, I’ll be anybody you want me to be. I’ll be the garbage man. But this is Clark Kent right here."
Kevin Garnett on teammate Paul Pierce
The Kids Are All Right: Rodney Stuckey Edition
1. The 22-year-old Stuckey was the 15th player selected in the 2007 draft but missed the first 25 games of the season because of a broken hand.
2. He was an honorable mention on the Associated Press All-America team and also was an academic All-American. He became the first basketball player in Eastern Washington history to have his jersey number retired.
3. He played in 57 games as a rookie and averaged 7.6 points. In two starts — both Pistons victories — he averaged 18 points and 4.5 assists. In the playoffs, he became only the third Detroit rookie to start a playoff game. The other two were Tayshaun Prince and Joe Dumars.
4. He started only three of the first 19 games this season before moving into the starting lineup. In 18 starts, he has averaged 19 points and 5.5 assists. He had a career-high 40 points in a win over Chicago and 38 in a victory over Sacramento.
5. "I’ve always felt, even last year, that he was able to start," Detroit coach Michael Curry said. "He played and he could dictate how he wanted to play the game. He struggled at times coming off the bench, trying to figure out when to be aggressive and when to get his teammates the ball. And that’s part of his growth process and he’s doing that now."
Traveling twice as fast
Several coaches have paid Miami’s Dwyane Wade the ultimate compliment, which is that he is so good that he gets away with cheating.
At least I think it’s a compliment.
The latest is from the Lakers’ Phil Jackson, who talked about Wade’s habit of traveling but not getting called for traveling.
"What he’s really been able to do is that pick-up move, that the Europeans really have brought in," Jackson said. "We all would consider that a walk move: Pick up the ball, take two steps, that’s two and a half steps. And he’s been able to get a long distance on that. And because of his ability to change directions from left to right and right to left very well, he’s able to avoid defenses, and he’s exceptional at that."
Jackson then offered a defense for the refs.
"It’s very difficult to referee the game and look at the feet," Jackson said. "In this league, our referees have decided they’re going to referee the defense, not the offense, and so the offensive players obviously get away with more than the defense does, because they’re looking at the defensive players."
Save me I’m falling
Funny rant from veteran center Dikembe Mutombo, who doesn’t like to see 7-6, 310-pound Yao Ming acting like a guard and stepping in front of players to take charges.
"I’m very critical," Mutombo said. "Those are bull. I told him that. He’s too tall to be taking charges. He needs to learn to play defense without using his chest. You don’t block a shot with your chest. You block it with your hands.
"The man who taught me the game, John Thompson, never said that a 7-footer should take a charge, even in a basketball 1-on-1. There’s no rule or writing in the books that you should take a charge. They teach you how to rebound and block shots. So I’m going to work on that.
"Maybe Yao is listening to Shane [Battier]. Maybe he wants to be a guard or something. Man, I’ve got a lot of things to work on. Maybe he’s planning to lead the league charges. So I have to stop him. I have to teach him to lead the league in blocked shots, not charges."
The Celtics played 41 games in the first 79 days of the season but will play the last 41 in 81 days. "It’ll help us big," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "We’ve played 41 games ... and the Cavs have played, what? 36? 37? It was just a tough beginning for us. We had a lot of games squeezed into a short time."
The Nuggets may soon sign a point guard and one D-League player is getting a major recommendation. George Karl said the Nuggets may sign Coby Karl, his son. "There are some fans," Karl said of Denver executives who have scouted Coby. "There are some people that like him. ... As a dad, I hope that discussion would happen."
Despite a record worse than .500, the Bucks are still in the hunt for a playoff spot and they have a scheduling advantage. They have completed travel to the West and will have games only in the East and Central times zones the rest of the season.
Material from other NBA writers was used in this report.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich enjoys doing things his way | Sports | Star-Telegram.com
And I think Pop and RC will have something up their sleeves before the trade deadline.
1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, Winning-A San Antonio Tradition
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