SAN ANTONIO — With the hurt still lingering over their loss to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he's gone over that series debacle several times and realized that the defeat was a case of identity theft.
“We played like the Spurs the first couple of games,” Popovich said. “ I think Oklahoma City learned from that and played like we did, offensively. They were sharing the ball and trusting their teammates. We lost our identity, and we want to make sure we understand that and get (our identity) back.”
The Spurs reported for training camp Monday with a lot of familiar faces.
San Antonio returns its “Big Three” in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and made very few outside additions this offseason. Everyone knows the Los Angeles Lakers added Dwight Howard and two-time MVP guard Steve Nash to combat the youth movement of teams like the Thunder.
Duncan said he understands that it won't be easy to make another run to the Western Conference finals, but hopes the Spurs are in the mix.
“Everybody has improved. Obviously, we've got Oklahoma City, a young team that has basically stayed the same but are extremely talented,” Duncan said. “The Lakers and the moves that they've made, and you've got teams that are getting better left and right. We hope that we are right in the mix. We put ourselves in a great position last year and were on the verge of getting back to the Finals. We hope we can do that again.”
Duncan, who signed a three-year contract extension during the summer, said he feels better than he has in years entering his 16th NBA season.
“I was so healthy and felt so good last year that it was never a thought (of retirement),” Duncan said. “I am hoping to have another three years like that. The way I felt and how I was getting up and down the court and the way I was moving felt really good. I hope I feel this good at the end of this contract.”
The questions surrounding Parker's eye injury were front and center during media day, where the All-Star point guard laid to rest any lingering concerns.
“I just three hours of tests this morning to make sure everything is OK, and I'm good to go,” Parker said.
Parker almost lost his left eye while he was a bystander during a nightclub fight between singer Chris Brown and members of hip-hop star Drake's entourage. His cornea was damaged and the guard had to have an operation to remove glass that had penetrated his eye.
Parker said he came through the incident a changed man in some respects, and felt great to that the injury didn't prevent him from playing with some of his fellow teammates for Team France in the 2012 London Olympics.
“Being at the wrong place at the wrong time really puts things into perspective,” Parker said. “You look at things differently. You just try to learn from it and do things more carefully. I'll try to do better next time.”
Last season, San Antonio was riding a 20-game winning streak after beating the Thunder in the first two games of the conference finals and heading on the road to Oklahoma City. The Thunder blew out the Spurs, 102-82 in Game 3, and won the next three, too.
“We are still feeling the pain of that loss to Oklahoma City,” Popovich said. “When you're up 2-0 in the conference finals and you don't get it done that hurts. Obviously, you give them credit. They are a heck of a team, but that doesn't take the hurt away”
Parker is coming off his best overall season of his career, where he averaged 18.3 points, 7.7 assists a game and became the go-to guy for the Spurs down the stretch before guys like Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha slowed him down in the final four games of last season.
When asked, Popovich never wavered in his support of Parker and if he can repeat his stellar season.
“Absolutely. That is what he's getting paid to do,” Popovich said. “He's got to be able to be committed and disciplined enough to repeat what he did last year. He knows that we expect that from him.”