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Spurs injury update: Tony Parker's return is imminent, Kawhi Leonard's is otherwise

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That's "weeks" as in plural.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs ring in the new year with a game against one of the better teams in the East in the Washington Bullets, a club they've defeated 16 consecutive times (their longest current streak against any team) and 13 straight at home. Unfortunately, they still carry over the injuries from 2014 with them, meaning that once again both Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker will be out.

Parker's return from a strained left hamstring is close, per coach Gregg Popovich. "He worked out 3-on-3 (Friday) and came out of it pretty good but I wanted to him to work a little bit more, to make sure he doesn't get in a game and get halfway through the game and feel it again," Popovich said, referencing the two times Parker returned early only to re-aggravate the injury on Dec. 12 against the Lakers and then again on Christmas against the Thunder. "I want to really be sure about that so he'll work out another once or twice before, Tuesday I think we play again? We'll see how he is there."

If not Tuesday against the Pistons, expect Parker to return for sure, barring any setbacks in workouts, next Friday at home against the Suns.

The news on Leonard, who has a torn ligament in his right hand and is set to miss his tenth straight game and 12th out of the past 14, is far worse. Popovich said "it's going to be weeks," before he returns to action, and then clarified the problem. It's not a simple matter of pain threshold.

"His hand doesn't work," Popovich explained. "It hurts, but if it just hurt he'd play. He's a tough kid. The hand doesn't work. It doesn't catch things and he can't do what you do to shoot and can't grab."

Pop did go on to add that the team's medical staff is seeing some progress with the injury, where slowly but surely Leonard is experiencing less pain and more use of the hand, but cautioned that "it's not nearly enough to play."

The only good news, really, is that off-season surgery doesn't seem to be in Leonard's future. "It doesn't look like that right now," Popovich noted. "He's seen doctors and gotten some opinions and nobody's talking about operating on it."

An unexpected beneficiary of Leonard's injury has been rookie Kyle Anderson, who's gotten minutes in 14 of 18 December games and averaged 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 16.1 minutes in that stretch.

As is his wont, Pop made sure not to go overboard in praising the kid, saying only "He's a rookie," but added a bit more when pressed. "He's a hard-working young man, a rookie. He's got a lot to learn, trying hard, good kid. I think he knows how to play, he's a smart kid. Smart's good."

One of the reason's Anderson's gotten to play a bit is because Pop has broken out a hockey-style "shift" system of late, what he termed "a platoon," mass-subbing groups of five players in and out of the game all at once in relatively brief intervals, in order to keep everyone fresh.

"It was fun," he said. "It kept our energy up. We just couldn't get somebody playing for 11 minutes in a row or eight minutes in a row with the schedule and everything, we were just exhausted. The platoon thing worked until the end of the game, then you put in the guys you want, then you play another overtime and overplay them."

Now that the schedule will ease up in January, with fewer games and more days off in between, maybe Popovich won't feel as compelled to micromanage minutes, but we'll see. I'm sure the coaching staff would love to have the occasional blowout so they can mix in some of the end-of-the-bench guys, but that probably won't be the case against a tough Wizards team. One thing in San Antonio's favor is that Washington is on a SEGABABA, having lost at Oklahoma City on Friday night after hanging with them for three quarters. The Wizards already beat Houston and got massacred at Dallas on their road trip to the south-west, and it remains to be seen what kind of legs they'll have for this one.