SAN ANTONIO (AP) — While everyone else knew the San Antonio Spurs were seconds from winning the division, Tim Duncan had to find out from his wife and Michael Finley stayed clueless until getting back to the locker room.
Typical Spurs. Always the last to know.
Apparently, they also haven't heard many say they're far too old, worn down and injured to be as good as the No. 3 in the Western Conference playoffs suggests. That after four NBA titles in 10 seasons, they're now a fading afterthought as a championship contender.
If the Spurs are being overlooked when they open the playoffs Saturday against Dallas, Tony Parker doesn't know about it.
"No, not really," he said.
Here's what Parker says he does know: the Spurs are old. That had they not pulled off a miraculous overtime win Wednesday night against New Orleans, they'd be on a long flight to Portland that would've been taxing on their aging starting cast that includes Duncan, 31, and Finley, 35.
Instead, the Spurs will enjoy home-court advantage in the first round for the 11th consecutive season. That in itself is a remarkable testament to their longevity, but even San Antonio is keenly aware that this postseason is going to be unlike than any in the Duncan era.
In other words, much harder.
Manu Ginobili is out with a bad ankle. Duncan's knees have been letting him down. Bruce Bowen was yanked from the starting lineup early in the season, and even off the bench, the Spurs have considerably shaved the minutes given to their 37-year-old defensive stopper.
Their rotation has been erratic down to the final weeks. Even their usual team-building Rodeo Road Trip failed to pack the "bunker mentality" that coach Gregg Popovich puts a premium on each February.
For the Spurs, it's been an oddly disruptive year. Nonetheless, here they are, the No. 3 seed in the Wild West and the Southwest Division champions.
Duncan said how far they go will come down to what it always does for San Antonio: defense.
"We're not as solid as years past," Duncan said. "We're going to have to really concentrate on that going through these playoffs. We want games in the low 80s and 90. Those are the kind of games we like to play and like to win."
The Spurs grabbed the third-seed in the West thanks to Houston losing to Dallas on Wednesday night, moments before Finley forced overtime against New Orleans with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Duncan said he didn't find out about the Mavs' win until his wife told him in the final seconds of overtime.
Based on the way he was playing, the two-time MVP clearly had other things on his mind. Duncan was brilliant in overtime against the Hornets, scoring at will and playing at perhaps his most dominant since his knees flared up around All-Star break.
"Don't get too excited," Parker joked after the game.
It was likely a refreshing sight for the Spurs, who as recently as last week pulled Duncan from an important game against Portland in the fourth quarter when he awkwardly lumbered toward a loose ball. After that game, Popovich said he didn't want a "hero" but a healthy big man.
The Spurs have treated Duncan as fragile since diagnosing him with right quad tendonosis in late February. Duncan has played on "half a leg" at times his own admission, and coupled with the absence of Ginobili, the weight has fallen heavily on Parker.
But the 26-year-old has responded with his best season yet. He's posted career highs in scoring (22.0) and assists (6.9), and was showered with "M-V-P! M-V-P!" chants by the home crowd in the finale Wednesday.
"Night in and night out, with all the injuries we've had and the guys playing well and not playing well, he's been playing consistent all year long," Duncan said. "He's been great."
The Spurs haven't lost a first-round playoff series since 2000, the year after winning their first NBA championship. They split the season series with Dallas at two games apiece, and enter the playoffs having won four straight.
"To ride this momentum going into the playoffs, and start at home, is good," Finley said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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