It was different last season, when the Spurs were seeking redemption after a Game 7 defeat to the
But after a 2-3 start this season, the Spurs seemed to be going through a malaise, with injuries taking their toll, and the age of their stars being a factor.
"I don't let that worry me because I know it's true," Popovich said last recently. "And some guys might still be enjoying the championship today. And I think that's totally reasonable, totally logical because they're human beings. So to try to fight that is kind of a waste of time. It'll take care of itself as we move along."
Stability is a key for the Spurs. Their championship roster returned intact, with the only addition being rookie forward Kyle Anderson, from UCLA, who has played sparingly.
Last week they became the second threesome in NBA history to win at least 500 games together, trailing only Boston's Hall of Fame trio of
Duncan, 38, has won five NBA championships in 17 seasons with the Spurs, Parker, 32, has won four in 13 seasons and Ginobili, 37, has four titles in 12 seasons. And the only coach they have played for is Popovich.
"It's all about managing the season because the Spurs know they just want to go into the playoffs healthy," said former Clippers and Chicago Bulls coach
San Antonio not only had the best record (62-20) in the NBA last season, but it had one of the league's most efficient offenses that ranked sixth in points per game (105.4), and a top-notch defense that also ranked sixth in points given up (97.6).
"So if we could duplicate that, I would do it. And it's either good enough or it isn't," Popovich said. "But I don't think we can do it any better. We're getting older every year. Same group. We can't do it any better than we did last year. So the goal is to not skip steps and try to get to that same level. That's really the approach."
The Spurs have been playing without key reserves
Their best young player, Finals most valuable player
And as Popovich has done in previous seasons, he has rested Duncan and Ginobili rather than play them in games on consecutive days.
Slowly, the Spurs began to find their groove last week, with impressive road victories on consecutive nights against the Clippers and
"I don't think you can ever judge them by a couple of bad games, because there is always a method to their madness. That's what makes them so great," said
"I compare the Spurs to
"Then Peyton throws the ball to a guy in the flat for like eight or nine yards. And that's what makes [the Spurs] so good. They don't hold onto the ball, they move it on to the next guy and they end up getting easy baskets. They are by far the best-executing team in this league."
Despite all the success the Spurs have had in winning five NBA championships since 1999, they have never won consecutive titles. Last season was the first time the Spurs reached the Finals in consecutive years.