With the West number one seed already in the bag, the San Antonio Spurs have the luxury to rest their stars in preparation for the playoffs.
Coach Gregg Popovich has made the call, the Big Three will not play in either of the team’s final two regular season games.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all made the trip to Phoenix for the start of a season-ending back-to-back that begins tonight against the Suns and concludes Thursday at Golden State.
But they will not play in either game, Popovich told the Express-News after shootaround this morning at the U.S. Airways Center.
Popovich has opted to keep his three top scorers under wraps until Game 1.
"It’s doesn’t make any sense to play them" Popovich said.
The Spurs are in the midst of a final push that includes 8 games in the season’s final 11 nights, including four in the final five.
Popovich’s aim is to keep his most important players fresh — and above all, given the way Ginobili’s regular season ended last year, out of harm’s way — until the playoffs begin.
Complicating matters, the Spurs won’t know when that is until the NBA sets the postseason schedule Thursday night.
It is possible the Spurs are forced to fly from the Bay Area on Friday morning, cross two time zones on the way back to San Antonio, then play Game 1 of the playoffs Saturday. It is also possible the Spurs open Sunday, clearly the more palatable of the two options.
If it’s Saturday, the Spurs — who would face either Utah or Denver in the first round — would not be able to hold a practice between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.
"Everything's based on when we play, and we won’t know until Thursday night,” Popovich said. “We can’t plan the weekend."
Team officials are hopeful the NBA will take into account the Spurs’ brutal season-ending travel itinerary when consulting with its television partners on a first-round schedule, but concede they have no control over what the league decides.
Thirteen of the 16 teams in the playoff field finish the regular-season on Thursday, and six of those finish with back-to-backs. The Spurs are the only team in that group that must also travel east through two time zones to begin the playoffs.
On a conference call Wednesday, commissioner David Stern said that — while there are several balls to juggle in setting a playoff schedule, including arena availability — the NBA would take travel concerns of the Spurs and other teams into consideration, if possible.
"You can’t politic for that sort of thing," Popovich said. "When they tell you to play, you go play."
Clinching the top seed in the West, with Monday’s win over Portland at least offered Popovich the flexibility to sit whoever he wanted against Phoenix and Golden State.
At 48-16, the Spurs are still tied with Chicago for the best overall record in the league, with the Bulls owning tiebreaker, but Popovich made clear finishing with homecourt immunity against a potential Finals opponent was less important to him than keeping key players upright.
"I opt for health," he said. "Our health is more important than the final record."
With the post season just around the corner, it surely is a wise decision by the Spurs to rest some of their regular rotation players to make sure that the team will be as healthy and ready as possible once the playoffs begins.
These two final regular season games will be a perfect opportunity for them to gear up for the post season grind.
(Photo via NBAE/Getty Images)