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Mike Sorensen: Spurs resting players could have playoff implications

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 11:02 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) tries to lay the ball up over San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair (45) as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 at Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Spurs won 106-102

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — You may remember the game a week ago at the EnergySolutions Arena when the San Antonio Spurs won their 11th straight game with a hard-fought 106-102 victory over the Utah Jazz.

You may not have noticed that the next night, the Spurs went up to Portland and got blown out by the Trail Blazers 137-97 to end their long winning streak.

So what happened?

Well, the Spurs didn't really try to win the game at Portland.

That's right, they left their two best players, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, on the bench in street clothes, even though they were apparently perfectly healthy. Instead they went with the likes of Cory Joseph, Danny Green, DeJuan Blair and Kawhi Leonard, all of whom started. The result was predictable.

After the game Spurs coach Gregg Popovich justified his maneuver by saying his two best players (Manu Ginobli was already out with an injury) both needed rest.

"In this schedule, everybody rests players at some point," he said. "I can't run our guys into the ground . . . you want to put some money in the bank for later. Every team is going to do that at some point during the season. Tonight is our night."

Everybody rests their players?

Can you imagine John Stockton and Karl Malone, who each played about 99 percent of their possible games in their NBA careers ever sitting out just to rest? Or Jerry Sloan ever offering to rest them?

I guess you could put part of the blame for Popovich's decision on the NBA for cramming 66 games into a four-month schedule when a 50-game schedule would have made much more sense. Or even a 58-game schedule, which would have been the fairest for everyone because it would have been a round-robin schedule with every team playing every team home and away.

Still, these guys get paid millions of dollars to play basketball when they're healthy and fans pay hundreds of dollars to watch them. When a coach opts to sit top players out, it cheats the fans and also cheats the game.

If Popvich absolutely had to rest his top players, how about doing it on different nights? Keep Duncan out one night and Parker the next. The Spurs might have lost two games instead of one, but they also might have won two instead of losing one.

How would you like it if you were a Portland fan, who shelled out a couple of hundred bucks for tickets to see Parker and Duncan and instead you got Joseph and Blair?

The biggest problem I see is how a decision like Popovich's can dramatically affect the standings and possibly cost a franchise millions of dollars.

Let me explain.

Portland is in the same division as the Jazz and the two are among several teams fighting for one of the final playoff spots. Heading into the all-star break, the Blazers are now two games ahead of the Jazz (18-16 to 15-17).

But what if the Spurs had decided to not try their best in Utah and rest their players here rather than in Portland? If the results had been reversed with Utah winning and Portland losing, then the Jazz and Blazers would be tied right now with .500 records. It was a two-game swing.

Even though I don't like the idea of a team not putting its best players on the floor, I could have understood a little more if the Spurs had rested its top players a team from the other conference, say, Charlotte, which is already out of the playoffs.

Two nights after the 40-point debacle in Portland, the Spurs were back their old selves in Denver, playing Duncan and Parker more than 35 minutes and winning by 15. Joseph and Leonard, meanwhile, played three and two minutes, respectively.

You have to also feel for the Nuggets, who are in the mix with Utah and Portland and now stand 18-17, a half game behind the Blazers. If the Spurs had tanked the Denver game rather than the Portland game and beaten the Blazers, the Nuggets would be a game and a half ahead of the Blazers in the Western Conference.

Considering that the Blazers now hold the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference standings and Denver is No. 9 and Utah No. 11, it means all three teams are on the precipice of making the eight-team playoffs, which bring in millions in extra revenue for NBA franchises.

The Jazz have a long ways to go to make the playoffs and it will take some improved play in the second half for them to make it.

If they do get close, let's just hope they don't finish one game behind Portland.

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