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|Gregg Popovich's track record gave him the leeway to sit his three best players.|
Say this about Gregg Popovich: He's not afraid to be unorthodox.
I can't think of a single other coach in the league who would do what he did last night. Of course, it helps to have the job security that comes with wining four championships. Only Phil Jackson is as confident in his future as Popovich is.
Still, it's pretty amazing to see three All-Star-caliber players sit out a game, given how tightly packed the Western Conference seeding race is. It's even more amazing when that game is against the Spurs' likely rival for the conference's second seed, or when you just saw all three players looking spry and healthy a night earlier in an overtime win against Golden State.
Nonetheless, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker all sat out last night's 104-96 loss to Denver, a game the Nuggets tried very hard to give away, and probably would have had the Spurs sent in the varsity.
The loss pulled Denver within a game of San Antonio in the race for the West's No. 2 seed; since the two don't play again this season, it also handed the Nuggets the season tiebreaker at 2-1.
Here's the really weird part: The Spurs have four days off before playing in Boston on Sunday, and next week they get the All-Star break.
OK, now for the part I can understand: Duncan and Parker played 43 minutes and Ginobili played 35 in an overtime win in Golden State the night before. That game started at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time; the one last night in Denver started at 6 p.m. Pacific, so the team only had 22½ hours between games and a very long flight; going Oakland to Denver is about as far-flung a back-to-back as you'll see. Throw in the altitude and it was going to be a very rough night for the Spurs' three stars.
Popovich also manages the big picture as well as any coach in the league, which is why his teams always hit their peak in the spring. So you have to respect his track record in this department.
Nonetheless, this game in particular was an odd time to make this choice, as it could end up putting the Spurs on the road in the second round of the playoffs.
Of course, perhaps it was all a ploy to avoid giving Denver a psychological advantage. The Spurs have had the Nuggets' number in recent playoff series, and perhaps Popovich thought taking a tired team into Denver and losing would embolden the Nuggets come May. Thus, perhaps he figured a calculated gamble in February was worth potentially losing a Game 7 at home in the playoffs.
One other idle thought: I'm not sure if Spurs fans are upset by what happened last night. But I guarantee Blazers fans are.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.