Tony Parker: Still long way to go
They made the most of that time, finishing with the best record in the league this season, and their 62-20 mark secured home court throughout the postseason.
As much as the Finals collapse sparked the Spurs to the No. 1 overall seed, there remains just one thing that matters for San Antonio.
"It shows a lot of character on our team, but at the same time, it doesn't mean anything if we don't win the whole thing," Tony Parker said after practice Saturday. "We have home court. We did a good job. But we know it doesn't guarantee anything. We just have to stay focused and we know we have a long way to go."
The championship culture is so prevalent for the Spurs that a local television station was promoting a one-hour playoff preview show entitled "Drive for Five: Unfinished Business" on Saturday, an example of the city's expectation this spring to add to the four titles the team has captured since 1999.
The Spurs opened training camp back in October by showing the team a tape from their 103-100 loss to Miami in Game 6, a game in which they were up by five points with 28 seconds remaining and ended up losing in overtime after Ray Allen's miracle 3 from the corner forced the extra period.
Marco Belinelli, fresh off a failed playoff run with the Chicago Bulls and decompressing in his native Italy, watched the live feed of Game 6 on TV at 4 a.m. At the time, he just chalked it up to "basketball, you never know."
But when he watched it with the rest of the Spurs in training camp after signing with San Antonio in the offseason?
"I was mad [like the rest of the team]," Belinelli said. "You use that as a motivation to do something big this year."
Danny Green, who saw his breakout Finals series marred by a 1-for-12 shooting performance in Game 7, said the Spurs are in a better place having gone through the disappointment.
"I think it's motivated us to be better than last year and we were pretty good last year," Green said. "We just made some mistakes at the end of a very important game. This year we don't want to make those mistakes. So, we've been prepping for that all year. Practicing the little things and making sure we're playing great defense for 48 minutes and be more experienced than we were last year."
The always irascible Gregg Popovich had little interest in talking about anything other than the eighth-seeded Mavericks on Saturday.
When asked to compare the readiness of this year's Spurs squad versus previous teams, the coach quipped, "I don't know how to do that."
When asked if there is anything extra to the matchup with future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki facing each other in the playoffs for the sixth time in their careers, Popovich replied, "It doesn't matter. What matters is how you play on the court. Everything else is boloney."
Parker did allow for some enthusiasm in the Mavs matchup, even though the Spurs swept the season series 4-0, winning by an average of 11.5 points.
"I like Texas rivalries," Parker said. "So, it will be fun. It's always great competition to play against the Mavericks."
Even though Parker said nobody on the Spurs' side spoke up with any special message on the eve of their playoff run, several San Antonio players made it clear that defense has been drummed into their heads coming into the Dallas series. The Mavericks were tied with the Heat for second in the league in offensive efficiency this season, averaging 109 points per 100 possessions.
"We notice the difference is defensively and whoever plays good defense is probably going to win the game," Green said.
It will take four wins against Dallas and then three more series wins after that in the conference semifinals, conference finals and NBA Finals for the Spurs to make a difference in the pain they still feel from last June.
"It's a fine line between losing and winning," Parker said. "We were close, but at the same time, you have to give credit to Miami. They won it. So we just have to focus on this year and not think about last year. Last year is last year, and we have a great opportunity to try to win this one."