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"Either we'll continue to win and the concentration will take care of itself, or we'll get our butts kicked a few times and it'll give me the juice to go after 'em. But it's hard for me to go after them now because of our history," he said.
San Antonio started 6-8 when it won its first championship in 1999. The 2002-03 title team started 11-7, and then last season's Spurs opened 20-5.
"The aberration," Pop said.
Pop contends that the current 12-3 launch isn't as good as it looks on paper and reels off a string of supposed trouble spots to back up the argument. He hasn't been happy with San Antonio's nightly turnover count (nearly 16 a game) or its weak-side defense and physicality. Easier to see is the Spurs' willingness to settle for playing in the half court instead of pushing in search of easy baskets, compared to the Spurs who last season gave themselves a new dimension with their fast-break efficiency.
Yet he runs through all of that very calmly. If you can allow yourself to play along and forget for a moment that just about any coach in the league would beg for San Antonio's problems -- and the ability to slot in Finley (15 handy points) for Ginobili or slap Bruce Bowen on Dirk Nowitzki (14 points on 3-for-13 shooting) for long stretches -- it's interesting stuff. It's a switch to hear the terminally intense Popovich admitting that, with a group that has to win it all to have a good season, he is forced to keep the grind in mind.
We saw it in training camp when the Spurs only went through one set of two-a-day practices, and we're still seeing it a month in.
Well aware that his veterans know as well as anyone how long the season can be, Popovich said: "These are intelligent guys. It's almost a counterintuitive thing. It hurts you [in November] because you know [what it takes]. When you get to the playoffs, because you know, it helps you. But early, I think it hurts you."
Which might explain why Popovich was so loose before Thursday's tip, long before Bowen blanketed Nowitzki on the final possession, that he readily volunteered a headline for his media audience.
Popovich has gone soft and it shows in his team.
"They know," he quickly added, "that I'm watching and thinking and ready to jump 'em."
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: November 23 | 26-27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | December 1
When the Rockets hired Jeff Van Gundy to succeed the legendary Rudy Tomjanovich, Van Gundy's reputation as an elite coach won him the opportunity. Only now, in a season expected to put that status up for evaluation, Van Gundy has been reduced to finger-crossing as much as he's coaching. Which makes it tough for anyone to nitpick his decision-making.In their current state -- best described as openly praying that Tracy McGrady's iffy back doesn't get any worse -- Van Gundy and the Rockets can't prove anything. They're just trying to get back to respectable, having desperately needed a victory Tuesday night over Atlanta to hike their record to a meager 4-11. "It's very humbling. I've learned that over the years. No one is above bad stretches," he said.
T-Mac Feeling Better
Rockets forward Tracy McGrady was concerned how his ailing back would respond following the 34-minute stress test he put it through in Tuesday's 100-85 victory over Atlanta. Two days and one practice later, he is far less anxious. 'I feel really good,' McGrady said. 'I woke up (Wednesday) just wondering how I was going to feel, and everything was fine. I rolled right out of bed (with) no pain, nothing.'" -- Houston Chronicle
Tony Parker, Spurs guard: Sank the Mavs with a season-high 30 points on 12-23 FG in the 92-90 win over the Mavs. The fifth-year standout totes a 20.4 ppg average, well above his career 14.3 average.
Brent Barry, Spurs guard: For potentially snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Barry gets this honor. With the Spurs leading by four with 6.1 seconds left, Mavs guard Marquis Daniels hauled in a long rebound and threw a wild shot toward the basket. But Barry inexplicably hacked him. Daniels sank 2-of-3 FTs. But if Daniels had sunk his three (plus one), the son of an underhanded free-throw shooter would have had some 'splainin to do.
Quote of the Night
"I had a good look at it. Give Bruce credit. Every time I touched it, a big guy ran at me."
-- Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, whose potential game-tying shot was partially blocked by stellar Spurs swatter Bruce Bowen.
-- Andrew Ayres
I'm mad. I'm not even an Atlanta fan, and I'm upset with the Hawks.
First, let me say this: I believe Marvin Williams will be a special player someday. But &The Hawks blew it by not drafting Chris Paul, or even Deron Williams. Most of the league's talent evaluators will tell you to draft the best player available, regardless of position or the makeup of your roster. Exhibit A is always Portland, already equipped with Clyde Drexler, passing up Michael Jordan for Sam "I Am (Hurt)" Bowie. But the Hawks were something of a special case last June. I mean, look at their roster: They've got nothing but swingmen and forwards.
Bruce Bowen blocked Dirk Nowitzki's jumper at the buzzer to seal the Spurs' 92-90 win at Dallas. Nowitzki is now 0-for-6 in his career on game-saving shots in regular-season play -- that is, potential game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or an overtime period with his team trailing by three points or less.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
In his role as Pippen to Kobe's Jordan, Lakers forward Lamar Odom this year has often turned in numbers more resembling the heydey of Horace Grant.
But last week, Odom declared to reporters his intention to average 20 points over the next four games. This did not sit well with coach Phil Jackson, who chafed at the notion of pursuing a numbers quest.
Odom missed his mark. He had 12 points against the Jazz, bringing his four-game point total to 70, good for a 17.5 average.
SportsNation has taken the pulse of NBA fans about the approval ratings for their team's head coaches.
Right now, Seattle head coach Bob Weiss is about as popular as Enron stock, with 16 percent of the Sonics faithful backing him. But Flip Saunders could be mayor of Detroit, with a 94 percent approval rating.