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Playoff Countdown: Tim Duncan puts his playoff cards on the table

When one of the most prominent figures in Spurs history speaks out about wanting the one seed, you know that things are different for this Popovich team.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are known for their quiet locker room, their motion offense and their head coach, Gregg Popovich, who is famous for giving the press only what he wants them to have, and for resting his players whenever he feel it's appropriate, whether that is against the Miami Heat on national TV or on back-to-back games.

Last night, after their win over the Dallas Mavericks, Tim Duncan utterly failed to offer the tame soundbite that's been the modus operandi for his entire tenure in San Antonio. Duncan admitted that the Spurs want to claim the one seed in the Western Conference.

"We want to end it as healthy as possible and we want to lock it up," said Duncan, "We've come this far and we've worked this hard, we want to get it locked up, so another great step."

As the regular season comes to a close, Popovich typically rests his players in anticipation for a long postseason. While what Duncan said wasn't an open declaration, his next quote summed up the hunger of this Spurs team.

Timmy was asked about the Suns game coming up and how long he would be willing to play.

"At least 45 [minutes]."

Of course he was joking, but Duncan is a walking monument for the way Pop runs the team, and his words speak volumes.

There is a different feeling about this team. After Tim Duncan hyperextended his knee last night, you would think he would just sit down for the rest of the season. Why risk Duncan, or any other starter's, body for games the team doesn't have to win? Even Popovich hinted that playing it safe wasn't an option in his interview with Craig Sager last night.

It seems that Pop's talk about not looking at their record or paying attention to the standings is nothing more than just talk. This team cares about hosting the last game of every playoff series -- especially the Finals. The aftereffects of last year's Game 7 loss are revealing themselves -- not as a Finals hangover, but instead as a determined resolve that can be seen as clearly on the court as in the box score.

The Spurs are investing more risk into this season because they know this may be their last shot at a title. Watching the team this year, you could make the case that their playoff seed mindset has gone from ‘whatever we get, we get' to ‘we will set ourselves up for ultimate success.'

With the Phoenix game coming up, this team knows they can finalize their path in the playoffs. The potential of sitting the starting lineup is always there, and it's ultimately not up to Tim whether he plays. But if Pop does play his starters tonight against Phoenix, it's a clear signal that home court advantage means far more than he's let on up to now.

He could certainly bide his time to give the Thunder a chance to drop one of their games against the Pelicans (Friday and Monday) or the Pacers (in Indianapolis on Sunday) since the Spurs magic number is down to 1, any OKC loss or Spurs win cinches San Antonio's home court.

But my guess is that they will play tonight, going ahead and pushing to wrap up the first seed sooner rather than later. The Spurs feel different to me this year, and with the added urgency added by the twilight of Duncan's and Ginobili's careers, it's a difference that's mighty dangerous.