San Antonio Spurs mentor Gregg Popovich was asked before Tuesday afternoon’s game what he would tell somebody on the off chance that they disclosed to him a month prior that his team could go 6-2 in the NBA’s restart and conceivably make the playoffs.
“I would have had them drug-tested,” Popovich deadpanned.
San Antonio was missing three starters to injury heading into Orlando – LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles and Bryn Forbes – and was anticipating diminishing the minutes of Patty Mills so as to concentrate on advancement.
Yet, after Tuesday’s 123-105 win over the Houston Rockets, San Antonio has won five of seven games in the air pocket and could make the play-in game in the Western Conference with some assistance from different groups – something Popovich said before the game would be “icing on the cake.”
“You have to be realistic. I don’t think our chances of winning a championship were great at the beginning of this nor are they now,” Popovich said before the game. “If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.
“With the three starters out, sitting Patty made sense. The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. It’s a win-win, no matter what. … But we’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing. That’s what’s important.”
Without Aldridge or Lyles, San Antonio selected to go with a four-guard beginning setup including Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker and DeMar DeRozan nearby Jakob Poeltl.
Walker, who had 12 points and seven bounce back against Houston, said he felt the team has met up in Orlando.
“Coming into the bubble and playing together, not just on the court but practice-wise, our intensity in practice has been amazing,” Walker said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s never felt like this as far as going up and down and being aggressive and having that intensity consistently. It’s been great to have good vibes and everything is actually transitioning onto the court.”
Popovich said advancement would have been critical – and that has shown itself with rookie guard Keldon Johnson, who burned through the greater part of the season in the G League and played just nine games with San Antonio preceding the break.
In those nine games, Johnson found the middle value of 4.6 focuses and 1.9 bounce back per game. In seven games in Orlando, Johnson is averaging 12.7 focuses and 5.4 bounce back while shooting 63.0% from the field and going 10-of-14 (71.4%) from profound.
Johnson had a profession high 24 focuses and 11 bounce back against Houston.
“He’s a high-energy guy who is very physical,” Popovich said of Johnson. “He’s very competitive, very coachable. He’s just a winner.”
DeRozan, who drives the group in points per game (21.7) and helps per game (5.7), said he felt like San Antonio could set itself in place for a season finisher compartment when the NBA declared 22 groups were going to the bubble.
“Just us having an opportunity to be here; that’s all we needed,” DeRozan said. “For me, as soon as I saw our name and we had the opportunity, no matter the percentages of us making it or whatever, I still believed that we’d be right here where we’re at.”