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The Spurs played the second of a set of back-to-back games on Tuesday night in Minneapolis without their longest standing stars and got back on the winning track with a 116-91 win over the Timberwolves. LaMarcus Aldridge led the way, scoring 29 points in the first three periods before resting his legs through the entire fourth period of another blowout victory.
Playing with a full roster didn’t work out well for them on Monday night in Indianapolis, where the worst shooting of the season resulted in a loss to the Pacers.
Nobody would suggest the Spurs are better without Tim Duncan; Manu Ginobili, who sat out to get some rest; or Tony Parker, who held out because of a minor injury. But it is fair to suggest that the absence of important teammates brings out the best in remaining players who understand the need for an added level of focus and energy.
“I thought guys were focused tonight,” Aldridge told reporters in a locker room interview televised on FoxSports Southwest’s postgame wrap-up. “We came back understanding we had to be better at both ends of the floor.”
Even with a full roster the Spurs would have had an extra portion of motivation to keep alive their record of never having lost the second game of a back-to-back set or having lost more than one game at a time. They are now 10-0 after losses and 14-0 in the second game of back-to-backs.
Ettore Messina, coaching a second straight game with Gregg Popovich dealing with a family medical situation, gave Andre Miller his first start since he signed a free agent contract with the Spurs after negotiating a buyout of his contract with Minnesota. Miller, the NBA’s oldest player (he will turn 40 on March 19) finished with 13 points and five assists, picking up his 8,500th career assist in the process.
Widely regarded as one of the smartest players in the NBA, Miller admitted that picking up the intricate Spurs offense has required a lot of schooling.
“I had to pick up a lot of language,” Miller told FoxSports Southwest broadcasters Andrew Monaco and Sean Elliott in a post-game interview. “They’re kind of easing me in. The main thing is, it’s just basketball, keeping it simple.”
Conditioning also was a bit of an issue for Miller, who had appeared in only 26 games for the Timberwolves before his buyout and averaged only 10.8 minutes per game.
He logged 25 minutes in his first start as a Spur.
“I told the coaches I probably haven’t played 20-plus minutes in maybe three years,” he said. “The main thing is just always trying to keep myself in decent shape and stay ready and be ready whenever my name is called.
“I’ll probably have to come in (Wednesday) for some more teaching and some more conditioning, just trying to stay ready.”
Miller acknowledged looking often for Aldridge, a teammate for two seasons in Portland, 2009-10 and 2010-11.
“Playing with LaMarcus in Portland I have an idea when he wants the ball,” Miller said. “The main thing I was trying to do was just keep it simple, not have a lot of turnovers, keep it solid and let the offense work for itself.”
Aldridge wasn’t surprised by Miller’s success in circumstances that might have intimidated a less experienced player.
“I know ‘Dre’ and he knows me well,” Aldridge said in a televised locker room interview. “Our chemistry definitely is there. He understands my game more than probably most guys because I played with him for two years in Portland. So I don’t mind having him out there whenever he is out there.
“He’s a pro. He always knows the plays and he knows the game. He’s a very smart point guard who understands the game better than most guards. He’s always ready to go and tonight he played great.”
It was no great surprise that the Spurs shooting percentage jumped Tuesday by 20% after their season-low 35.4% in Indiana. Mathematicians call that “regressing to the mean,” and the Spurs have been the NBA’s most accurate shooting team (48.8%) this season. Helped by a 14-for-19 third quarter (73%) they finished at 55.3% for the game. Aldridge was the most accurate, missing only two of his 13 shots.
Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.