If the Spurs have faced a more difficult stretch of games during the Tim Duncan era, Gregg Popovich certainly can't recall it.
San Antonio opens a nine-day, six-game stretch — beginning with the Denver Nuggets tonight — during which they'll face the top five teams in the NBA (outside of themselves) record-wise. With the Nuggets, Clippers, Heat, Grizzlies, Magic (the outlier here) and Thunder on the docket over the next weeks and a half, the Spurs will be tested in ways they haven't experienced this season. Everybody has Sunday's Miami Heat game scheduled, but pile on the rest of these Western Conference foes and things get a bit difficult.
"It's a heck of a stretch to end the season with, but, theoretically, that should get you prepared," Pop said prior to tip. "You're playing the best ... like your final exam, so to speak, before the playoffs. So, it's OK."
If this span of matchups truly is an end-of-year test, it's a good thing the Spurs are all caught up. This will be Tony Parker's third game back from injury, and despite a little ankle soreness, he's feeling better by the day. He's led San Antonio in scoring in each of his first two games back, but has lacked a certain level of explosiveness we're accustomed to seeing out of the All-Star point guard.
"There are certain situations on the court where he's not going to be as confident. He's pretty dynamic at some of the things he does — pivoting, turning, twisting and all that," Pop said. "It takes a little while to get all that confidence back, but he's pretty close."
But the Spurs will need Parker to be back to his old self sooner rather than later, and getting out in a track meet with Denver is a hell of a way to test the ankle — not to mention this team's offense.
Pick up your pencils. The exam has begun.