The San Antonio Spurs were playing on the road against a solid playoff team, their fourth game in six nights. Their three best players -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili -- were all parked on the bench with various ailments. In NBA parlance, that is known as a "schedule loss." You are not supposed to win those games.
The Spurs beat the Chicago Bulls by 14 points Monday.
Maybe it's because San Antonio is always in the mix, but given that it is playing at a franchise-record clip (.778 winning percentage), you would think it would be the logical NBA title favorite. At 42-12, including another road win at Cleveland on Wednesday, the Spurs still had 11-2 odds to win it all this season, according to Bovada.com -- behind last year's finalists, the Miami Heat (7-4) and Oklahoma City Thunder (13-4). San Antonio beat the Thunder at home on a Parker buzzer-beater and lost to them on the road. The Spurs lost by five at Miami and have a rematch at home with the Heat on March 31.
In the end, those games are relatively meaningless. With the All-Star break upon us, the key now for the Spurs is to keep homecourt advantage away from Oklahoma City over the final 28 games and continue to get rest for Duncan (left knee), Parker and especially Ginobili (left hamstring). So far Ginobili, 35, has played in just 41 of 54 games and exclusively comes off the bench. Duncan, 36, has appeared in 44 games but sat out another 10. Even Parker, the baby of the group at 30, has missed three games.
It is a concerted strategy that has landed coach Gregg Popovich in hot water with the league office. He also didn't play Duncan, Parker, Ginobili or starting guard Danny Green at Miami because it was the end of a long road trip. That cost San Antonio $250,000 but earned the players needed rest. It's hard to argue with the results so far. The Spurs continue their annual "rodeo road trip" with four games out West to start the second half and finish with 17 of the final 24 at home.
- Brian McNally