Gregg Popovich needs Patty Mills to occupy a much larger role while Tony Parker is sidelined.
The San Antonio Spurs are limping into the post-All-Star break portion of the 2013-14 season, but that doesn't stop full-strength predictions.
Two starters—point guard Tony Parker and small forward Kawhi Leonard—are currently sidelined, while Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter each recently returned from their injuries.
Led by the brilliant basketball mind of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have overcome the setbacks and remained near the top of the Western Conference.
But can San Antonio finish the season strong, and which players must step up along the way? Well, if history is any indication—and that's usually a good precedent with the Spurs—expect both a familiar and new face to emerge and lead the defending conference champions into the playoffs.
Every year, nagging injuries always hamper Tony Parker and sideline the All-Star point guard.
Tony Parker is currently on the shelf due to a "variety of injuries" and is out "for the foreseeable future," per Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.
Monroe also notes Parker said he felt like he was not helping the team while at 50 percent. Of course, he is just two weeks removed from a 32-point, nine-assist performance, so he certainly contributed during his fatigued stretch.
But after a busy summer playing with Team France and carrying the Spurs early on, Parker will take some time off. However, Parker will sit out more than just a handful of contests, and that number will approach one-half of San Antonio's remaining games.
Regardless, Parker taking extra time off to heal completely is in the Spurs' best interest. San Antonio is not in danger of missing the playoffs, so the team needs Parker ready for postseason action.
Plus, it gives another important player some more action.
Patty Mills has evolved from a garbage-time player to a key reserve.
Ladies and gentlemen, Patrick Thrills.
Patty Mills is no longer a cheerleader on the bench—he is leading the Spurs' backcourt and second unit, especially in Parker's absence.
Chris Dutton of The Canberra Times (via The Sydney Morning Herald) notes Mills said he "wants to be taken seriously now" and "not just someone who was waving a towel last year."
Mills has played 17.9 minutes per night, scoring 9.7 points on 47.8 percent shooting from the field. Plus, he has knocked down three-pointers at a 42.8 percent-clip, which is the 10th-best mark in the NBA.
Now, even though Parker is sidelined, Mills will not take over the starting position, because his off-the-bench scoring is absolutely critical to San Antonio's success. Mills will receive some extra playing time, though, including minutes in the fourth quarter because of his outstanding shooting.
Consequently, Mills will often tally double digits in the points column, and the Spurs are counting on offensive contributions from him as their star player recuperates.
Tim Duncan battles the league's biggest players every night but stays healthy.
A 19-point, 13-rebound, 7-assist performance by a power forward typically demands attention.
Not when your name is Tim Duncan.
The 37-year-old has carried San Antonio through a slew of injuries, occasionally resting for a game or playing reduced minutes.
Moving forward, the Spurs are relying Duncan to keep up his robotic production offensively, despite his struggles shooting mid-range jumpers. Last season, Duncan made exactly 50.0 percent of 16-24-foot attempts behind the free-throw line, but his percentage has dropped to 30.8 percent this year.
Yet Duncan is still hovering around 50.0 percent from the field, and he keeps finding the bottom of the net while posting double-doubles nearly every night.
San Antonio is missing Parker, Leonard and Splitter, but Duncan, somehow, some way, is picking up the slack and receives no attention. But it's safe to say Duncan likes it that way.
San Antonio gets its second shot at the Heat on March 6.
During the first portion of the season, San Antonio was repeatedly bashed for failing to beat the NBA's top teams.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets knocked off the Spurs three times, the Portland Trail Blazers defeated San Antonio twice, and the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers emerged victorious once. San Antonio has only beaten the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers twice, so critics are still waiting for the Spurs to beat Miami, Indiana, OKC or Houston.
However, on his French radio show, Parker said, per Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs, "it is no fun to lose games like that but we know that the big goal is later" and that the team is not panicking.
Popovich's squad will get another shot at the aforementioned teams on March 6, March 31, April 3 and April 14, respectively. And rest assured, San Antonio will finally earn a couple wins against marquee teams.
Then again, Pop could sit multiple starters repeatedly and troll us all. Just for fun.
The Spurs are eagerly awaiting the return of Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs have finished in the top two of the Western Conference for three consecutive seasons, and 2013-14 will not be any different.
Though Oklahoma City is currently up 3.5 games and the Thunder are close to running away with the West, simply because Kevin Durant is on a hot streak that is capable burning fire.
Note: Analogies about Durant are currently not required to be logical because he isn't making sense right now, either.
From Pop's leadership to Mills' emergence to Duncan's veteran presence, San Antonio will fight off the dreaded injury bug. Plus, Parker's eventual return will spark a late winning streak, and the Spurs will coast into the postseason.
San Antonio holds a 2.5-game advantage over the Rockets, and it will hold off a dangerous Houston team—as well as the Clippers and Blazers—at the end of the regular season.
And then, a completely healthy Spurs team will begin the drive for NBA championship No. 5 as the second seed.