분류없음2008.03.10 18:17


 

Popovich: 'We're not at the same level'

Web Posted: 03/08/2008 10:08 PM CST

Mike Monroe
Express-News staff writer

PHOENIX — Forget the 11-game winning streak that moved the Spurs to the top of the Western Conference standings for the better part of last week.

To hear Gregg Popovich tell it, his team is significantly behind the pace of season-long improvement that resulted last season in the Spurs' fourth NBA championship in nine years.

"We're not at the same level we were at last year at this time," the Spurs' coach said Friday night in the aftermath of a 13-point road loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Though it was the Spurs' first defeat in nearly a month, Popovich believes his team's lofty standing has deceived some into thinking the Spurs are on the same course that last year's team took to the title.

"I don't remember how I thought or how I felt exactly at this point last year, so it's hard to compare," Ginobili said. "I don't think it's such a big difference, but maybe a little bit."

Popovich seldom is as happy as he is when he has a chance to run his team through a full practice session, and he had one penciled in for Saturday afternoon at U.S. Airways Center, site of today's nationally televised game against the Phoenix Suns.

After arriving in Phoenix after 2 a.m. following the loss in Denver, he decided rest would be better for the league's oldest team as it reached the midway point of a brutal stretch of four games in five days

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, whose team on Friday dropped its fourth game in its last five, felt his team needed another opportunity to work on meshing its speed game with the reality of having Shaquille O'Neal manning the pivot.

D'Antoni is just as distressed as Popovich about his team's recent play, but his positive outlook precludes the issuance of dreary declarations.

In fact, he's not buying Popovich's pessimistic pronouncement about the Spurs.

"I don't even know (if they're not as good as they were last season)," D'Antoni said. "And I don't care, because I know they'll be as good as they were when it counts. And it will count.

"Pop didn't think so last year, either. He always doesn't think so, and they always do it, so I'm not getting sucked into Pop's game."

D'Antoni asserts that his Suns will be all right once they discover all the adjustments required to make a fast-paced game mesh with a 7-foot, 325-pound center like O'Neal.

"Yes, we are (as good as we were last year)," he said. "Not in all the things, like being on the same page and closing out games a little better, because then it was instinctive. Now we have to think about what we're doing. But because of Shaq's presence and what we can do, rebounding and all that, we can be better.

"I think we have a chance of being really good. We've just got to turn it up and get the process going."

D'Antoni calls today's game a great opportunity for his team to get a much-needed big victory. But he knows it won't be easy, no matter how much Popovich frets about the Spurs' slippage over the course of a year.

"Pop's great, and they'll be fine, but I hope he's right for once," D'Antoni said. "He's never been right yet. They've always been good. But I know he's too good a coach, and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are too good to let anything slip."

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