Popovich, Spurs buoyed by bubble play: ‘Win-win’on August 12, 2020 at 5:10 am

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked before Tuesday afternoon’s game what he would tell someone if they told him a month ago that his team could go 6-2 in the NBA’s restart and possibly 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 planning on curtailing the minutes of Patty Mills in order to focus on development.

But after Tuesday’s 123-105 win over the Houston Rockets, San Antonio has won five of seven games in the bubble and could make the play-in game in the Western Conference with some help from other teams — 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 opted to go with a four-guard starting lineup featuring Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker and DeMar DeRozan alongside Jakob Poeltl.

Walker, who had 12 points and seven rebounds against Houston, said he felt the team has come together 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 development was going to be key — and that has shown itself with rookie guard Keldon Johnson, who spent most of the season in the G League and played only nine games with San Antonio prior to the hiatus.

In those nine games, Johnson averaged 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. In seven games in Orlando, Johnson is averaging 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 63.0% from the field and going 10-of-14 (71.4%) from deep.

Johnson had a career-high 24 points and 11 rebounds 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 leads the team in points per game (21.7) and assists per game (5.7), said he felt like San Antonio could put itself in position for a playoff berth as soon as the NBA announced 22 teams were coming 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.”

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