Like Aldridge, Spurs finding they need work

SAN ANTONIO — As workers patiently wandered the AT&T Center on Tuesday night, at least one wondered when it would be appropriate to ask LaMarcus Aldridge to leave.

“We’ve got to make ice,” the worker mumbled as a crew prepped to lay down ice for a Rampage hockey game set for the weekend.

Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs had already laid down plenty in a 104-84 loss to the Phoenix Suns. While what transpires in exhibition outings rarely merits true concern from the Spurs about the regular season, this game felt a little different.

Manu Ginobili hopes San Antonio took the performance as a wake-up call, that “we’ve got to bring it.” Guard Danny Green said, “We didn’t take this game and move in the right direction the way we wanted to,” while Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, flatly, “Nobody was good, really.”

So while the game’s final buzzer sounded at 9:44 p.m. local time, approximately 20 minutes later there was Aldridge taking passes from assistant coach Ime Udoka and firing jumper after jumper from different angles, followed by a succession of free throws, with the whole process hitting repeat on the opposite basket.

Earlier in the night, Aldridge shot 4-of-10 for nine points and six rebounds in 28 minutes against the Suns to move his exhibition shooting totals to 8-for-24 in his new home arena.

Aldridge finished up his postgame work and walked off the court at 11:14 p.m. He didn’t speak to the media, but it was clear Aldridge and the Spurs sense urgency as the Oct. 28 regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder approaches.

“We’ve got to bring it or if not, things like that can happen,” Ginobili said. “The NBA is the NBA. We’ve got kids very athletic, all over the place that can make shots, that play hard, that want what you have. So we’ve got to bring it.”

The Spurs gave it away against the Suns, turning the ball over 11 times, led by Kawhi Leonard‘s team-high six as the Suns outscored them 24-6 on the break. Interestingly, just before tipoff Tuesday night, Popovich mentioned that “transition D has still been a problem” going all the way back to the Spurs’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last season in the first round of the playoffs. Turnovers only exacerbated the situation against the Suns.

Aside from Green, every Spurs starter played at least 22 minutes, led by Tony Parker, who played more than 30 minutes and contributed six points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Popovich called the team’s transition defense in Games 6 and 7 against the Clippers last season the “worst transition defense in the history of basketball in those two games,” adding: “It’s been an emphasis to start this season. Because if you’re gonna be one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league, which we always are, we better be one of the best transition defense teams.”

San Antonio certainly wasn’t against the Suns, but Ginobili offered a simple solution.

“Run back. That’s the easiest thing to fix, actually,” he said. “Sometimes you are gonna miss shots. You’re gonna dribble the ball on your foot and it’s gonna go out, and [you’ll] make some turnovers because of the pressure from the other team. But running back should be the easiest thing. Somebody takes a shot. Boom, sprint back. Until we learn really to value that concept of running back, we are gonna pay a very hefty price. We’re not the most athletic team in the league. So we really need to run back because I think on the five-on-five we’re gonna be pretty good. But if we give them 20 points on transition, then it’s gonna make things harder.”

The loss to Phoenix marked San Antonio’s fourth in five exhibition outings, and Green expects the team’s intensity level to crank up Friday when it closes the preseason at home against the Houston Rockets.

“It is a good team coming in. I think guys will definitely have some juice and energy for it, especially after tonight, not being as happy with the outcome [and] how we played as a group,” Green said.

Leonard led the Spurs with 14 points, followed by Tim Duncan and David West with 10 apiece as they struggled against Phoenix’s high-pressure defense.

“Obviously, you want to be playing a little bit better as the regular season approaches,” West said. “I think for us, it has been trying to get familiar and find groups that work; play a bunch of different lineups, which we have been doing.”

It’s still preseason, but certainly what the Spurs haven’t been doing is living up to their immense potential, given the addition of Aldridge and West to go with established starts such as Duncan, Leonard, Parker and Ginobili as pundits hailed San Antonio as winners of the offseason.

“We have a lot of potential. Nobody doubts that,” Ginobili said. “But potential is not real until you execute and play well. The potential is there. The talent is there. Now, we’ve got to play well.”

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