As the San Antonio Spurs (7-4) and Portland Trail Blazers get set to tipoff at 7:30 PM CST in the AT&T Center, the Spurs are a team wounded in the guard position with star Manu Ginobili sidelined with a fractured finger, and backup point guard T.J. Ford out with a torn hamstring.
Portland’s coach Nate McMillan however, knows the Spurs are still dangerous without Ginobili, “They’re still playing through Tony and Tim,” said McMillan before tip-off.
The Spurs are ranked 27th in the league in turnovers per game, McMillan attributes this to the Spurs’ discipline over the years under the group of head coach Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Ginobili, “San Antonio won’t beat themselves,” said McMillan.
An interesting player whose name was brought up to McMillan was Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is built in a similar mold of Portland’s Nicolas Batum. When asked if Leonard reminded him of Batum, McMillan responded, “(Leonard is) very active and yeah, pretty similar.”
I asked coach Popovich if Leonard would see time on multiple players from Portland, Popovich responded, “He’s not Bruce Bowen yet, but he’s a good defender. He’ll spend some time on different people.”
Popovich also compared Leonard to point guard Tony Parker who also became a starter early in his rookie season, “We’re basically throwing him in the frying pan, the way we did Tony. Tony was 19,” said Popovich.
Popovich had one last comment regarding the rookie, which who he hopes will continue to grow as a player, “He wants to be a great player, he enjoys the challenge,” said Popovich, “That’s good for us.”
As for the team the Spurs will play tonight, Popovich feels the Blazers have had the Spurs’ number for quite some time, “They’ve given us trouble, it seems like its been 10 years since we beat them.”
When asked if he was surprised by the Blazers’ quick 7-3 start, Popovich responded with an original “Pop” type answer,” Who ever is surprised by Portland,” said Popovich, “has been living under a phone booth.”