For one more night at the AT&T Center there was nothing at stake for the Spurs but a chance to prepare one of the more daunting regular season openers in franchise history. They closed out a six-game pre-season schedule with a 114-99 win over the Houston Rockets.
That their final pre-season game before the 2016-17 season begins, in earnest, came against what promises to be the NBA’s most free-wheeling offense should have made it a dress rehearsal for Tuesday night’s game against the defending Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors. New Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, the author of the “seven seconds or less” attack that got the Phoenix Suns to back-to-back Western Conference Finals in 2005 and 2006, has put James Harden in the Steve Nash point guard role and surrounded him with 3-point shooters like Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Eric Gordon.
But D’Antoni left four of his starters, including Harden, in Houston, denying Gregg Popovich a chance to give his team a true idea of what they may face at Oracle Arena on Tuesday, when they will match up against the Warriors fast-paced offense and the 3-point games of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Popovich likely would have preferred to face Harden and the rest of the Rockets starters, but even without their presence the game allowed him a long look at all but one of the starters he will use all season. The exception: shooting guard Danny Green, who missed the game with a left thigh injury that will sideline him for about three weeks.
Third-year swing man Kyle Anderson replaced Green in the lineup that opened the game, giving Popovich a fair idea of how he may look in a role he may ask him to assume for the first few weeks of the regular season.
Anderson did not disappoint. In just under 20 minutes he scored score 10 points, on 4-for-5 shooting, and added four rebounds and three assists, with nary a turnover.
“He did well,” Popovich said.
Anderson played mostly at small forward in his first two seasons and some at power forward. But with second-year guard-forward Jonathan Simmons also nursing an injury – a bruised calf that should sideline him only for a few days – Popovich didn’t hesitate to give the versatile Anderson the start in Green’s stead.
Just play basketball.
“If the coaches have faith in me, of course I’m going to have faith in myself,” Anderson said. “I think the parts are kind of interchangeable. It’s basketball. I can play a lot of positions.”
Green’s injury was revealed about 90 minutes before tipoff. A 28-year-old veteran of seven previous season who has started 374 games at big guard over the past five seasons, Green will be sidelined for “about three weeks” with a left quadriceps strain. He began training camp with a left thigh that was sore from a bruise sustained in a pickup game. The quadriceps strain is more troublesome, though not considered serious.
“It’s a precaution,” Green said. ‘Taking it day by day, week by week, see how it goes. It’s obviously not great, but the timing isn’t bad. It’s better to have little injuries now and get them out of the way than when we get into the flow of things. Come All-Star break, playoff time, we want everyone healthy.
“It obviously sucks not to be able to have opening night with these guys.”
Losing a starting guard for three weeks could play into the difficult decision Popovich must make before mid-afternoon on Saturday: Cutting his roster down to no more than 15 players. Fourteen players have fully guaranteed contracts, but more than one of the non-guaranteed players have shown they deserve consideration for a place on the opening night roster. One of them, 6-foot-3 rookie guard Bryn Forbes, was the team’s leading scorer against the Rockets, scoring 19 points, all in just under 18 minutes of the second half. He made 7-of-8 shots, including all four of his 3-point attempts.
“I think that’s all I can do, is give them my best and whatever happens, happens,” Forbes said.
Like most coaches, Popovich hates cut day, especially when several players deserve consideration.
“You make choices and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t,” Popovich said. “You talk about similar skills sets. Well, to me that means two guys shot it really well, which one are you going to choose? Two guys play defense really well, which one are you going to choose? Well, you go to something else. You look at their character. Can the guy shoot or can the guy who shoots play any defense? How aggressive are they? How competitive are they? What kind of team player might they be? You add all those other factors before you make the choice. Then you hope you’ve made the right one.”