Front­court thin on per­son­nel as Gay, Ga­sol con­tinue to mend

Al­tered lineup may be same used Wed­nes­day

San Antonio Express-News - - SPORTS - By Tom Ors­born tors­born@ex­ Twit­ter: @tom_ors­born

The Spurs front­court re­mains thin af­ter the team an­nounced Fri­day start­ing for­ward Rudy Gay and backup cen­ter Pau Ga­sol will be out against the Rock­ets on Satur­day night.

It will be the third con­sec­u­tive game Gay has missed with a sore right heel and Ga­sol’s sec­ond in a row with a sore left foot.

Gay is the Spurs’ third-lead­ing scorer, av­er­ag­ing 13.3 points to go along with 7.9 re­bounds and 2.0 as­sists in 28.0 min­utes. Ga­sol is av­er­ag­ing 6.8 points 6.1 re­bounds and 3.3 as­sists in 17.4 min­utes.

“Their pres­ence has been huge for us on both ends of the floor,” Spurs backup guard Patty Mills said. “Pau’s abil­ity to pro­tect the rim and re­bound, and then his abil­ity to be a quar­ter­back of­fen­sively (is im­por­tant). And so is Rudy’s pres­ence on the of­fen­sive end to some­times make things hap­pen when things aren’t go­ing great.

“But ob­vi­ously it’s a big pic­ture, and we would rather have them get healthy now so we can have them for the rest of the sea­son.”

Gay has ex­pressed a de­sire to re­turn to ac­tion, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is tak­ing a con­ser­va­tive ap­proach af­ter the 32year-old missed 25 games last sea­son with bur­si­tis in his right heel.

“I’m go­ing to give him the rest that he needs, and hope­fully we’ll have him,” Popovich said. “We’ve got enough young guys and new guys. I can’t have him in and out of the lineup ev­ery third game or some­thing like that. Hope­fully, the rest will make him be able to go for a longer stretch.”

With Gay side­lined, Popovich could go with the same lineup he used in Wed­nes­day’s 95-88 loss at Mi­ami, mean­ing Davis Ber­tans would start at small for­ward.

To add depth to their ail­ing front­court, the Spurs re­called rookie for­ward Chimezie Metu from their G League team in Austin on Fri­day.

The Spurs also will be with­out Lon­nie Walker IV against Hous­ton. The rookie guard has yet to play this sea­son af­ter tear­ing the me­dial menis­cus in his right knee in the pre­sea­son.

Fast start needed: If there’s a sil­ver lin­ing to the Spurs’ twogame los­ing streak, it’s that they never gave up af­ter fall­ing into deep holes in both games.

In the 117-110 loss to Or­lando on Sun­day, the Spurs trailed by 26 points with 9 min­utes left only to cut the deficit to five with 1:41 left.

Three days later, they ral­lied from 19 points down with 10 min­utes to go to pull within five with un­der a minute re­main­ing.

“It shows a fight (in us), but we can’t keep re­ly­ing on that,” guard straight, in­clud­ing a 95-88 de­feat at the hands of the Heat on Wed­nes­day in Mi­ami that led coach Gregg Popovich to call his team soft and undis­ci­plined.

“(Time to) man up,” DeRozan said.

The Rock­ets (4-6) want to do the same af­ter fall­ing to the shorthanded Thun­der 98-80 Thurs­day in Ok­la­homa City. Hous­ton’s point to­tal was its low­est in a reg­u­lar-sea­son game dur­ing coach Mike D’An­toni’s two-plus sea­sons with the club.

The em­bar­rass­ing loss to an Ok­la­homa City team play­ing with­out the in­jured Rus­sell West­brook also marked the third time the Rock­ets have failed this sea­son to score at least 90 points, match­ing the com­bined to­tal of D’An­toni’s first two sea­sons.

It’s a frus­trat­ing turn of events DeMar DeRozan said. “We need to come out and start games the way we are fight­ing at the end of games, so we don’t put our­selves in that sit­u­a­tion, be­cause it is tough to dig out of it. Let’s come out with that type of en­ergy and play that way from the be­gin­ning.”

Mills said the Spurs started both games “a bit slow and dis­or­ga­nized.”

“They are great teams with great scor­ers and ath­letes and they made us pay,” he said of the Magic and the Heat. “From then on, it’s al­most play­ing catch-up bas­ket­ball. Al­though we can cut a deficit, it’s not enough. Like DeMar said, it’s about play­ing 48 min­utes and play­ing as smart and as hard as we can from the start.”

Op­ti­mistic out­look: De­spite their two-game skid, DeRozan

for a team that last sea­son came within a win of ad­vanc­ing to the NBA Fi­nals af­ter lead­ing the league in of­fen­sive rat­ing, av­er­ag­ing 114.0 points per 100 pos­ses­sions. As of Fri­day, Hous­ton ranked 26th at 103.9.

“It’s tough,” Harden said af­ter scor­ing 19 points on 7-of-19 shoot­ing against the Thun­der. “Any­body, any player in this league, if you’ve got open shots and they’re not fall­ing, it’s go­ing to mess with you a lit­tle bit.”

Com­ing off an MVP sea­son in which he av­er­aged a league-best 30.4 points, 8.8 as­sists and 5.4 re­bounds, Harden has al­ready missed three games be­cause of a ham­string in­jury and is av­er­ag­ing 26.6 points, 7.7 as­sists and 5.4 re­bounds.

DeRozan, mean­while, is av­er­ag­ing 26.4 points, 6.4 re­bounds and 6.8 as­sists in a bid to be­come just the 10th player in NBA his­tory to av­er­age 26/6/6 over a sea­son. Harden did it in 2016-17, when he av­er­aged 29.1 points, a league-best 11.2 as­sists and 8.1 re­bounds.

“Ev­ery sin­gle year, he’s got­ten bet­ter,” Harden said of DeRozan. “The way he thinks the game now is great to see, great to watch.” be­lieves there’s plenty of rea­son for the Spurs to be op­ti­mistic af­ter they com­pleted their first 10 games with a 6-4 record.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of ob­sta­cles,” he said. “Guys have been hurt. The start­ing lineup changed a few times. Every­body learn­ing. Guys com­ing back. Kind of a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing has been a big chal­lenge. So to come out on top (with a win­ning record)…gives us a lot of con­fi­dence. We know we are go­ing to be a lot bet­ter than this of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively as the sea­son pro­gresses, es­pe­cially once we get more and more healthy.”

The Spurs also were 6-4 at this point last sea­son. They fin­ished 47-35.

Three and a half months ago, it was DeRozan who was strug­gling. Know­ing how much his friend hurt af­ter be­ing forced to leave a city he had grown to love, Harden tried to con­sole him by paint­ing the move to San An­to­nio as a ca­reer-en­hanc­ing op­por­tu­nity, one in which Popovich would put him in po­si­tion to be more suc­cess­ful than ever.

“I’m just happy that he’s happy,” Harden said. “He’s in a re­ally good place right now. I think Pop helps with that, some­body that un­der­stands a player of his cal­iber and will give him the free­dom to go out there and do what he wants.”

Harden said it’s also clear DeRozan has found San An­to­nio to his lik­ing.

“He’s more a low-key guy, so this is a per­fect sit­u­a­tion for him,” Harden said.

While grow­ing up in in­ner-city Los An­ge­les was far from a per­fect sit­u­a­tion for DeRozan and Harden, they had plenty of good times as they trav­eled around their home­town in search of pick-up games.

“I hooped ev­ery­where in L.A. — parks, in­side, in the ’hood, nice gyms. I mean ev­ery­where,” Harden told the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle last year. “I was a hooper. Wher­ever Spurs:

“We re­ally can’t be­lieve how far we have come and where we are in this league.”

Staff file photo

Spurs small for­ward Rudy Gay will miss his third straight game with a sore right heel, while backup cen­ter Pau Ga­sol will sit for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game with a sore left foot.

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