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Splitter eager to make season debut for the Spurs

The Brazilian big man is as mystified by the nature of his injury as the rest of us.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Slowly but surely the Spurs are becoming whole. Kawhi Leonard, who missed almost all of preseason and the first regular season game with an eye infection, made his season debut at Phoenix last Friday and now Tiago Splitter, who's been out since the second day of training camp with a strained right calf, is also on track to play tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. If he does indeed participate, it will mean that only Patty Mills will be missing, and he likely won't be available until 2015 after needing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Splitter was made available for the first time and spoke about his injury, but seemed genuinely unable to offer much in the way of specifics as it seems that even the Spurs medical staff is stumped by his somewhat chronic calf issues over the years.

"Honestly, I don't know," Splitter answered when asked about the nature of his injury. "I had calf pain and one of the reasons could be a problem in the back, but I didn't feel pain in the back too so it's something that we still don't know but we treat it like there was a problem in the back too. It took longer than I thought but finally I'm back."

It was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich who first mentioned last Tuesday that Splitter's calf injury may be related to a back problem as well and there have been whispers from those close to the Brazilian that there a nerve issue is at --pardon the pun-- the root of this problem. The sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body, goes from the back all the way down the legs and there have been cases where a problem with the nerve causes pain in the lower extremities and not the back itself, even though that's where the nerve is impinged.

"Maybe that's why the team (looked at?) my back," Splitter allowed. "Maybe they thought the problem came from my back. We don't know. We don't know exactly why, so, I'm just happy I'm back now."

What's clear is that Splitter's timing couldn't be better for the Spurs. After playing just two games over the first eight days of the league calender, the grind starts for real tonight, with five games on the schedule over the next seven nights, including three against the best bigs in the league. There's Atlanta's Al Horford, Houston's Dwight Howard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis in the next four days. Splitter won't be getting any patsies to warm up against.

"This is the NBA, you're going to have tough matchups every night, you've got to be ready, and I work a lot to be ready to play and let's see how it goes," he said.

Just being able to get his legs underneath him will be Splitter's first hurdle to overcome and after that comes regaining his rhythm after a month off the court. Manu Ginobili, who is experiencing similar issues in that regard, mentioned that Splitter is the best screener on the team and will welcome Splitter back with open arms. The challenge for Splitter will be to set those screens without moving and getting whistled for offensive fouls, not to mention catching the ball on the move and trying to finish afterward.

"It's part of the offense, screening and rolling and getting a pick from the defense," Splitter explained. "It's a part of our system and I do it, with Manu especially and we plan to do that more."

Like Splitter said, we'll see how it goes.