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News » There's plenty in reserve for Spurs

There's plenty in reserve for Spurs

There's plenty in reserve for Spurs The most intense Basketball battles in San Antonio this season haven't always occurred at the AT&T Center. Some of them haven't been in front of any fans at all.

Some of the toughest, grittiest, winner-take-all-Basketball has been played in an unmarked gym on the city's Northwest side, away from the prying eyes of the public and with pride as the only spoils.

Those scrimmages between the Spurs' first and second units can get pretty chippy, say those who have seen them.

"We'd toss it up in a scrimmage, and it was almost like a game atmosphere," guard Keith Bogans said. "One team would win one day, the other team would win the next."

Eleven games into the season, that dynamic has often transferred to actual games played in front of actual crowds. Squint your eyes just right, at the court or at the box score, and it can be difficult to tell the Spurs' starters from the reserves.

Heading into tonight's game against Golden State, the Spurs' reserves can lay legitimate argument to the title "Best Bench in the NBA."

Anchored by ascending point guard George Hill, the Spurs' bench ranks second in the league in scoring (43 points per game) and first in rebounding (19.3 per game) and assists (9.5 per game). It hasn't missed a beat with Manu Ginobili, a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, sidelined with a groin strain.

"We're a deep team," guard Roger Mason Jr. said. "It's everybody's responsibility to bring it. If you're coming off the bench, you have to bring it quicker."

When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich looks down his bench, he sees perhaps the deepest team he's ever coached. He also sees a puzzle still in need of piecing together.

"The way our team sits right now, there is a lot of flexibility," Popovich said. "That's a good thing, as long as at some point in the season, that flexibility is not just flexibility but is turned into a little bit more of a solid, consistent set of choices."

Any discussion of the Spurs' bench begins with the question of who, exactly, is on it. Leading up to Monday's 112-98 victory over Milwaukee, Popovich had used a different starting lineup in five consecutive games.

"Right now, it's just sort of interesting and creative and fun to see how combinations are going to work together," Popovich said. "We're learning from them as much as they're learning from us."

The combinations Popovich used against Milwaukee seemed to work wonders.

For long stretches, the Spurs' second unit outplayed their first. Matt Bonner ended with 23 points, including six 3-pointers. Hill scored 14. Mason had 11. In all, the Spurs' bench produced 59 points, six more than the Spurs' starters.

"We want to be a complete Basketball team," Hill said. "We have a lot of guys who can step in and make plays. Our bench is doing a great job of giving us a spark."

Only one bench in the NBA has outscored the Spurs' on a per-game basis. The Warriors' reserves average 44.3 points, but that number doesn't apply to the injury-riddled team that will limp into the AT&T Center tonight.

The Warriors are likely to suit up only the minimum eight players. They won't even have their coach, Don Nelson, who skipped the road trip while fighting pneumonia.

"They've had injuries and illness, but they'll come in firing the pill," Popovich said. "In this league, when you take somebody for granted, you have problems."

Nobody is taking the Spurs' second unit for granted. Especially not the Spurs' first unit.

"That's what we need," Tim Duncan said. "On nights when the energy isn't there, if somebody isn't playing well, we need somebody to step up. That's a big part of becoming a team."

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: November 26, 2009


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