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Spurs Fueled By Western Conference Finals Loss
Posted By Yannis Koutroupis On October 1, 2012 @ 9:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Traditionally, media day marks the start of a new year and teams embrace it as a clean slate. Not the San Antonio Spurs, however, who are still reeling from losing the last four games of their season to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. After being just two wins away from the NBA Finals, where they have never lost in franchise history, they are going to use that defeat as motivation all season long.
“We’re still feeling the pain of that loss to Oklahoma City,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said to HOOPSWORLD. “When you’re in the conference finals up 2-0 and you don’t get it done, that hurts. Obviously you have to give them credit, but that doesn’t take the hurt away. I think we all still feel it very, very much. That’s a good thing. We have to use it as fuel. That was a very tough loss. We think about it now as we have all summer long and it’s our job to figure out what we can do to combat that youth and talent. We’ve got some ideas and we’ll see what happens.”
“I still think about,” agreed Spurs point guard Tony Parker. “It’s tough. Sometimes it’s hard to understand basketball. You win 20 games in a row, you think you’re playing your best. Then, you lose four in a row. It’s hard to understand. That’s the beauty of sports, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s very painful. You just hope you’re on the right side of it. At the end of the day the Spurs, we’re lucky that we’ve won a lot of championships. We’ll try to do it again. I like our chances. I like the fact that Pop and R.C. (Buford) chose stability and kept the same team. I think the big thing for us is all of our young guys have one more year of experience. They’ve been through the playoffs and big games. I think that’s going to be very helpful for us.”
The player who the Spurs are banking on improving the most from last year is starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. The franchise invested a lot in him, trading up in the 2011 NBA Draft and losing a Popovich favorite in George Hill in the process to acquire him.
It didn’t take Leonard long to prove his worth. He had a stellar rookie campaign and, as a result, his responsibilities will expand.
“He’s going to be a Spur for life if the planets, agents and all those sort of things line up,” Popovich said. “We’d love for him to be a Spur for life. He’s a sponge as far as absorbing information, seeking out information and adding a work ethic to it. When he came in, he couldn’t shoot much. With the tutelage of Chip Engelland, he has really improved in that area and all a sudden he’s shooting threes, which none of us dreamed he’d be able to do last year. Defensively, he’s good. He’s going to handle the ball more this year, be in pick-and-rolls more this year. We expect a lot from him.”
The standard training camp and practice time will not only help Leonard, but also the rest of the Spurs’ young core and late additions like Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson and Patty Mills.
“It will be great,” Popovich said of having more time to work with Leonard than in last year’s abbreviated season. “Kawhi had really a huge disadvantage trying to guard people he had never seen in person before. He didn’t really know our system. He had very little practice time. Boris got here a day before the playoffs it seemed. Danny Green, it was all new for him. We’re looking for a lot of corporate knowledge to increase with those guys, maybe it will help us overall with our team defense. For us, it’s about the defense. We have to be able to make more stops in the fourth quarter than we did last year. There was an identity theft that took place in that playoff (series). We played like the Spurs the first couple games, Oklahoma City actually learned from that. They played like we did offensively, sharing the ball and trusting your teammates. We lost our identity, we want to make sure we understand that and get that back.”
Parker, who has become the team’s leader as of late with Tim Duncan in the final years of his career, sees the potential for vast improvements on the defensive end of the court.
“I think offensively we’ve been playing our best basketball since I’ve been here,” Parker said. “The way we move the ball, the way we score. We have so many weapons. Our bench is very good. I think offensively we may be even better than we were our championship years. Defensively, I think we’re very, very far. Defensively, when we won championships we were the best in the NBA, I think last year we were in the middle, 15th or 16th, something like that. That’s not good enough if you want to go all the way. We have to at least be top 10 or top five. I think that’s where we have the biggest room to improve.”
A change in mentality may be just as vital as anything in the Spurs’ quest to improve defensively and as a whole. Jackson, who is known for his toughness and grittiness, recently said he wants the team to have the same approach that he does.
“I think we have to,” Parker said. “A lot of people see us as the nice Spurs. I think this year we need to play like we’re hungry and we want it. We have to stop saying ‘We won a lot of championships, it’s ok we’ll come back next year.’ We have to show we want it. I think Jackson is right on point when he says that. We have to play with more attitude and, like Pop says, more nasty. All season long we have to play like that. From the get go, the first day of practice tomorrow, we have to show we want to go all the way. We were so close last year. Those opportunities are very rare. Hopefully we can go all the way back to the conference finals and have an opportunity to go back to the finals.”
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