It's impossible to say what went through Pop's head during last Monday's loss in Charlotte. Some mix of frustration and bewilderment would be expected as the Spurs let a 23-point lead slip away (the largest blown lead in the TD era, note Marc Stein and John Schuhmann below) to Jeremy Lin and the Hornets.
"Just as we were getting a few first-place votes in those power ranking articles I love so much," he might have lamented to Ime Udoka on the sidelines.
But there might have also been a few sunbeams of clarity peaking through the haze of this historic regular season's final stretch and how he would approach it. Whatever ground San Antonio had made up between them and first-place Golden State had been undone, and the opportunity to snatch the top spot -- however unlikely it had been -- wilted away.
Last week the Spurs rested a number of key players twice -- in a win against Memphis and a loss in Oklahoma City --and there's all the reason to expect that trend to continue through the season's final weeks, especially on the road. This week's schedule -- at Memphis, then at home against New Orleans and Toronto -- should mean bigger minutes for guys like Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, as Pop addresses any questions he might have of the rotation he'll take into the playoffs.
We might also might see a bit more of this:
Regular-season wins and losses might not matter anymore, but winning still does. Now, more than ever.
Marc Stein, ESPN (Spurs rank: 2, Last week's rank: 2)
As Power Rankings jinxes go, last week's was a new one. We kept the Spurs at No. 2, despite loud calls from various corners to bump them into the top spot after they won their big Golden State showdown, but still somehow jinxed 'em. When San Antonio squandered a 23-point lead in Charlotte mere hours after the rankings were released, it marked the biggest blown lead in the Tim Duncan era.
USA Today (Spurs rank: 2, Last week's rank: 2)
Set its franchise record with 43 wins this season by double-digit margins.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com (Spurs rank: 2, Last week's rank: 1)
The Spurs' maintenance program went into full effect last week, but not before they suffered their biggest collapse since they drafted Tim Duncan. Playing without Kawhi Leonard (bruised quad) over the weekend, they allowed both the Grizzlies and Thunder to shoot better than 50 percent. If they're going to finish undefeated at home, they'll have to beat the Raptors, Warriors and Thunder, against whom they're 0-4 on the road.
David Aldridge, NBA.com (Spurs rank: 2, Last week's rank: 2)
You thought The Great Resting would stop just because the Spurs beat the Warriors a week ago?
James Herbert, CBS Sports (Spurs rank: 2, Last week's rank: 1)
The nanosecond the Spurs clinched a top-two seed this week, they shifted into rest mode. Don't expect to see much of their big stars the rest of the way. Also, it's insane that their reward for likely winning more than 65 games is the two-seed and OKC in the second round.
Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated (Spurs rank: 2, Last week's rank: 2)
Popovich troll mode, engage. Now that the Spurs have toppled the Warriors, they're perfectly content to roll out the subs (Boban alert!) and rest the important legs for the postseason. Nobody will be surprised if Andre Miller and Kevin Martin start the final two regular-season meetings with Golden State, either.