Saturday night's game at the AT&T Center is going to have a preseason feel to it as both teams will be significantly shorthanded. For the Spurs, you likely knew about the absences of Tiago Splitter (more on that below) and Patty Mills. And you probably expected Tony Parker to be out too, since he suffered what the team called a "slight strain of his left hamstring" in Friday's win at Memphis. However, Manu Ginobili will also miss the game with what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich termed "a shoulder impingement." Pop didn't know exactly how Ginobili hurt his shoulder, saying only, "I think it was an overall thing, he worked very hard," but didn't think that either he nor Parker would miss more than a game or two. If I had to guess, I'd say that Parker will be out Wednesday at Utah but that Ginobili will play.
Originally Pop planned to sit Tim Duncan too, and joked that Duncan would be in a suit "unless he beats me up when he comes in." Well, it appears that Duncan did out-box his 65-year-old skipper because he's in the lineup.
For Minnesota, meanwhile, their starting backcourt of Ricky Rubio (sprained left ankle) and Kevin Martin (fractured right wrist) are still out, as is their behemoth in the middle Nikola Pekovic (sprained right wrist). Also missing the game will be noted Spurs-killer Mo Williams, meaning that high-flying rookie Zach LaVine will run the point tonight against Cory Joseph.
There was some good news on the injury front, however. Popovich said that Tiago Splitter, who's missed all but 11 minutes on the season with a calf injury, should be available very soon, maybe even Wednesday night at Utah. "I think he might be cleared for quite short minutes for Utah or New York," Pop said.
When he wasn't going over the walking wounded, Pop took the time to bemoan the team's exhausting December schedule. "I think we have (seven) back-to-backs this month," he said, adding, "18 games in (a month). It's a ridiculous schedule for us."
Pop also flatly dismissed any notion that Danny Green is comparable to Kawhi Leonard as a defender, with a quick "He's not," before further explaining that "Danny's a good defender, a pretty good defender on the ball, but like most players he has to improve off the ball. He's advanced significantly since he first came here, he's doing better and better."
Mostly though, Pop used the pre-game to talk up a couple of his beleaguered coaching colleagues in Minnesota's Flip Saunders and Philadelphia's Brett Brown.
On Saunders, who's had to deal with an injury-ravaged roster: "His situation is beyond adversity. I don't know what the word would be. It's like the flu going through the whole team, nine guys are gone with the flu or something. They've been inflicted with all sorts of different stuff and it's just an impossible situation. They keep playing, as evidenced by last night. They have a lot of pride and they bring it every night, and Flip's going to keep demanding and whoever shows up, that's who plays and you're expected to do the job. They're not going to lay down for anybody."
Then, on what he shared with Brown during the team's visit to Philadelphia: "The personal stuff is our own business but just in general I just wanted to tell him that he's unbelievable. The fortitude that that he's showing, continuing to coach and demand, and be upbeat, love his players, it's hard to imagine. If we lose a couple of games I'm a crazy person. I have to go some place out in the woods and beat my head against at a tree or something and here he is going through that kind of thing and you can't even imagine how that feels. His approach, his professionalism, is remarkable. I know I don't have the stuff, the fiber, to do what he's doing right now, so I just wanted to pump him up and let him know that a lot of people here notice how he's handling himself and it's pretty impressive."
Pop went on to say that hearing that the Sixers finally got their first win of the season --against Saunders' Timberwolves no less-- helped soften the blow of losing at Brooklyn on Wednesday night. "I thought it was great," Pop said of the Sixers finally cracking the win column. "We were all thrilled. Every player was thrilled, every coach was thrilled, we all loved it. It was good to get off that record. The media buzz went away, he didn't have to talk to as many of you guys as usual, so it was good."