(Reuters) - The San Antonio Spurs can only watch, wait and practice until their NBA Finals opponent is decided and they can return to action after a nine-day break.
The Western Conference champions will play the winner of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals, led 3-2 by the Miami Heat over the Indiana Pacers, when the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship series begins June 6.
“Too much rest? Sure there’s concern,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after practice on Thursday. “What are you going to do? You do your best.”
The long hiatus is a byproduct of San Antonio’s efficiency in dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies in a four-game sweep of the West final that concluded on Monday.
Tim Duncan, a stalwart of all four Spurs NBA titles during his 16 seasons in San Antonio, said he and his teammates are naturally keeping an eye on the Miami-Indiana series.
“Just trying to pick up a little on either squad,” Duncan told reporters. “Just trying to find anybody’s rhythm I can, see how they play, see what they do and just get a rhythm.”
Point guard extraordinaire Tony Parker, who leads the Spurs in points and assists during the postseason, said he was not worried about rust settling in.
“I don’t even think about it. It is what it is,” the Frenchman said. “It’s going to be a very good team that we’re playing. Indiana and Miami two very good teams.”
If the defending NBA champion Heat advance, the opening game will be in Miami. Should Indiana pull off the upset, homecourt advantage would swing to the Spurs, who would host the opener of the best-of-seven finals.
“It doesn’t really matter,” insisted Parker. “At that stage of the competition you have to win on the road if you want to go all the way.”
While the Spurs say they do not care about the foe, they are passionate about getting to hoist the championship trophy again for the first time in six years.
“This one is very special,” said Parker. “There are a lot of emotions. Obviously, because it’s been a long time to go back and with the same Big Three and Pop, makes it very special.”
Duncan, as a second-year power forward, partnered with center David Robinson for the Spurs’ first title in 1999, and went on to triumph with Parker and swingman Manu Ginobili of Argentina in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
A resurgence by the 37-year-old, 6-foot-11 Duncan and a stunning season by Parker helped bring the Spurs back.
Duncan has found a new bounce in his step after losing some 25 pounds (11.3 kg)
”Just getting older, trying to take a load off my knee,“ Duncan said. ”I used to play at about 255, 260 and I‘m about 235 right now.
“The last couple of years my game has declined and changed and I wasn’t ready to let it go.”
Duncan, a 14-time All Star and three-time NBA Finals MVP, averaged 17.8 points this season and was named to the All-NBA First Team after slipping to 15.4 and 13.4 points per game the previous two seasons.
Popovich said he had challenged Parker this year to play like an NBA All Star every night, and he had met the challenge.
Asked if he had challenged Duncan, the coach joked: “I haven’t talked to Tim in about six or seven years.”
Popovich said Duncan had a special drive to succeed.
”The greatest players have that drive,“ he said. ”There are about eight or 10 of them in this modern era starting with Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird and Michael (Jordan) that have unbelievable character and professionalism.
“And the do it longer and they do it at a high level because it’s just how they’re built with that competitiveness and heart and feel the responsibility of their teammates.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue