Spurs to use March schedule to rest, refine, and refocus
Pounding the ball at the free throw line, Manu Ginobili swished shot after shot at the San Antonio Spurs practice facility. By the time a free throw finally rimmed out, most of Ginobili’s teammates had already left the court.
The extra work put in after practice were equal parts attempt to regain rhythm and penance for a missed free throw that allowed the Phoenix Suns to force overtime in their 101-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Each missed shot brought a look of disgust on Ginobili’s face as he replayed the events of the previous night in his head.
“It was one of those games that you want to play 30 minutes afterwards again,” Ginobili said. “It’s frustrating how we let that one go.”
Though the Spurs finished their annual Rodeo Road Trip with a successful 7-2 record, the team evaluates itself less on record and more on quality of play.
With Ginobili working his way into form from a left hamstring injury, Tim Duncan trying to regain rhythm and confidence following a left knee scare against the Washington Wizards, and Tony Parker and Gary Neal playing hurt in their loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs have hit a snag.
Twice in the last three games the Spurs have forfeited double-digit leads in overtime losses via bouts of poor execution and a few bumps and bruises.
“I’ve been here long enough to know to be disciplined enough to execute down the stretch,” Danny Green said after practice. “As long as this group has been together, we’re known for being a very disciplined team. It’s unlike us to not execute and to not be disciplined in those situations and close games out. Those types of things happen to young teams, and we’re a pretty veteran team.”
Even veteran teams can have momentary lapses of focus over the course of an 82-game season. And coming off a long and successful road trip the Spurs appeared to have been setup for such a letdown even if they warned against it.
“It was a hard game mentally. We’ve been on the road so long, with a 7-2 great record coming back home, everyone kind of relaxed a little bit,” Ginobili admitted. “And this is what happens in the NBA if you don’t focus completely. It’s sad that it happens because we all thought about it and talked about it, but I guess it’s hard to control. Hopefully it won’t happen again.”
The Spurs hour-long practice session was dedicated to executing. While the extended road trips can help build team chemistry, a hectic schedule and lack of practice time can bring even the most disciplined team to deviate from basics.
It’s those long hours after practice that Ginobili believes he’s missed in finding a rhythm since his return from injury.
“I haven’t been shooting well from the free throw line, I haven’t been spending much time shooting free throws,” Ginobili said. “With a long time on the road, you don’t have the same time to practice. Here you have an opportunity.”
With 12 of their 14 games in March played at the AT&T Center, the San Antonio Spurs will have ample opportunity to put in some much valued practice time and rest. With the entirety of their roster returning from a year ago, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich declared the Spurs could spend the time fine-tuning their execution and rededicating their focus, rather than teaching the nuances of the Spurs system.
“The schedule is different each year and it just so happens that down the stretch we’ll have more time to repeat some things, do some muscle memory, and hopefully heal some people at the same time,” Coach Popo said. “I’m not too interested in putting in too much more [in the offense]. There are things we have in there that we would like to execute better that we haven’t used very much. It’s more about cleaning up what we have than adding new things now.”
So Ginobili repeated the same shooting motion over and over, muscle memory cleaning up the flaws that worked their way into his form. And over the coming month the rest of the Spurs will follow suit, resting muscles and refining execution. After all, what better way to pound the rock than with sharpened tools?