Though they looked anything but championship worthy through the preseason --the Spurs will be the first ones to admit they've got miles to go to get back to form-- they certainly haven't lacked for effort in putting all that behind them. The regular season opens against a Dallas Mavericks squad that pushed them, unexpectedly, to the seven game limit in the first round last season. The team had a looooong Sunday practice and followed it up with another on Monday, the latter specifically geared with a scouting report for Dallas in mind.
"We did a lot of stuff, we started today, a lot of preparation for them and we'll do some more tomorrow," said Tony Parker, who is expected to take on even a heavier burden than usual early in the season not only because Patty Mills will be out for a while rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery but also, it seems clear, fellow teammates Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter as well.
Splitter missed the entire preseason with a calf injury and wasn't on the practice floor by the time gym was opened to the media, though to be fair only few Spurs were. Leonard, who picked up a nasty case of pink-eye in Germany, was shooting with an assistant at the very latter stages of practice, but again he seemed to have been isolated from his teammates.
Coach Gregg Popovich wasn't available to update their condition but the Spurs will make an announcement later in the afternoon. [UPDATE: As expected, the Spurs have announced that Leonard and Splitter will be out for the opener.]
Considering the absences in the lineup and the opponent in question it would seem that Tuesday night's ring ceremony will be the only highlight of the evening for the fans, but the Spurs are 4-0 in previous season openers coming off championships and will at least be heartened by the fact that the Mavericks have made many personnel changes to the team that pushed them so hard a year ago and will likely need some time to gel and establish their chemistry.
"They made some great moves," declared Parker. "They got some great veterans, they got Tyson (Chandler) back and you know they won a championship with him, and obviously Chandler Parsons is very talented and even Jameer Nelson. He's a good point guard, can knock down threes, so in that system I think he's going to fit very well on that team."
While at the time some folks considered it an ominous sign that it required the full seven games for the Spurs to make it past the eighth-seeded Mavs, it certainly didn't play out that way and Manu Ginobili, for one, doesn't think it was a coincidence. In his view the series win lifted them up when others thought it would sap their energy and drain their spirit. He saw it as a case of iron sharpening iron.
"They did make us better, for sure, and that's the great thing in the West," Ginobili explained. "We were (No. 1 seed) and we really struggled against the eighth and you think this doesn't happen that much in the East. But this really gets you better. It makes you improve and face a tougher challenge from the beginning and the Mavs were, for sure, great."
Both Ginobili and Parker said that this time around they'll be ready for any defensive wrinkles Mavs coach Rick Carilsle will throw at them, unlike last April where they were caught off-guard when Dallas' help defenders stayed home on shooters and dared the Spurs stars to beat them singlehandedly. Eventually the Spurs figured out their pick-and-roll coverages and found ways to get anything they wanted, but this time around it might actually benefit San Antonio if the Mavs take a similar approach, since Parker and Duncan appear to be two of the few ready to for the defending champs.
Ginobili, for one, is still sorely lacking in rhythm, having made just 8-of-41 shots during the preseason, including his past 18 three-point attempts. With usual bench-mates Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli ticketed for starting roles in light of the aforementioned maladies to Leonard and Splitter, and with Mills on the mend, you have to wonder where the Spurs bench production is going to come from.
For his part, Ginobili said he's pleased that at the very least he's healthy and good to go.
"Conditioning-wise, just not basketball-wise," Ginobili said. "I'm not making shots and (making) too many turnovers, things like that, but conditioning-wise and overall health I'm good and those are the two things I wanted to achieve. If I don't start making too many shots, okay, I can deal that. I don't like it, but in an 82-game season I'll get to where I have to be."
Where you'll have to be if you want to watch the ring ceremony is in your seat (or the couch) by 6:30 p.m., before the season tips off for real at 7:08. Every fan with a paid ticket will be given a collector's ring as a souvenir.
Ginobili was asked how awkward it will feel for rookie Kyle Anderson to not get one since he's the only newcomer to the returning squad.
"It’s gonna be lonely, huh?" he joked, adding, "I don’t know, maybe I’ll let him touch it."
What about letting the kid try it on, Manu?
"No, you don’t do that. He was born in '93. I’m 77. He’s got time."
Ginobili meant he was born in 1977, obviously. But hopefully for the sake of Spurs fans, he'll look just 37-years-old on Tuesday.