Duncan Worn Down, but Not Out

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2006

SAN ANTONIO, April 21 -- Hours before they won their franchise-record 63rd game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs were faced with a dilemma. Sitting in the visitors' locker room at Toyota Center, Tim Duncan was hunched over, shoulders slouched, looking toward the ground and shaking his head.

"What are you going to do, Timmy?" Spurs point guard Tony Parker said.

"I don't know," Duncan said, looking like a kid who had just dropped his lollipop.

The cause for concern? No, it wasn't Duncan's sore foot. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich had decided to sit his superstar forward-center and give him some rest before for the playoffs. But it meant that Duncan would finally have to adhere to the league's business casual dress code -- which Duncan once called "a load of crap" -- and wear a sport coat on the bench. Duncan doesn't own a jacket or plan to ever buy one. But luckily, he was able to borrow one from seldom-used reserve forward-center Sean Marks.

Problem averted.

The defending champion Spurs have greater reason for trepidation, though, as they enter their first-round series against the Ron Artest-energized Sacramento Kings on Saturday night at AT&T Center. Despite besting the regular season record of their previous NBA championship runs (1999, 2003 and 2005), San Antonio seems more vulnerable in this postseason, with its centerpiece Duncan plagued by plantar fasciitis and swingman Manu Ginobili unable to do those manic, twisting, daredevil antics because of injuries to his thigh, foot, left calf and shin.

"It's funny. Every year, something has to be said about what the Spurs are lacking, what they're not doing very well," Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. "We'd rather fly low and come up big when we need to."

While several Spurs players laugh off the notion that they can be had with Duncan and Ginobili playing through injuries, Popovich agreed. "I think that's a valid comment," Popovich said. "I don't think either one of them is at 100 percent. I think that's valid. There's nothing we can do about it. Nobody is going to play as well as Tim Duncan. Nobody is going to play as well as Manu on our team. You don't replace those guys. You just hope they get as healthy as they possibly can."

Parker has carried the squad this season, leading the team in scoring and making the all-star team for the first time in his career. Duncan said Parker was San Antonio's "rock" this season, but everyone associated with the Spurs knows that their hopes of repeating as champions for the first time hinges on the health of Duncan.

"That's our foundation," Bowen said.

"Nothing's changed at all. Timmy is our go-to guy," said Parker, who averaged a career-best 18.9 points. "It all starts inside with Timmy."

Duncan had his worst season as a pro. His scoring average is a career-low 18.6 and his 48.4 field goal percentage also is his lowest since entering the league. He hit at least 49 percent in each of his previous eight seasons and came into the season as a 50.7 percent shooter.


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