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San Antonio Spurs, Manu Ginobili Equipped to Survive Tony Parker's Absence

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 17: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs sits on the bench watching his teammates take on the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Spurs 109-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IMarch 1, 2011

The next time Tony Parker sees Andrew Bynum, the two can discuss how much they abhor playing against the Memphis Grizzlies.

For the second straight March, Parker will miss as much as a month recuperating from an injury he suffered versus Memphis.

A strained left calf will sideline him for two to four weeks. This ailment, like his broken hand last spring, will test the Spurs in many areas.

The team will miss Parker's indefensible penetration during a stretch that includes the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and the L.A. Lakers. He would have afforded San Antonio a huge matchup advantage at point guard.

The obvious questions: Will this setback cause the Spurs to cough up the top seed? Is their dream season now a nightmare one?

I say, "No," and, "You gotta be kidding me."

Parker's absence will sting, but Gregg Popovich's squad has already developed a contingency plan. The Spurs posted an 11-5 record without him the previous March. It was their toughest month of the campaign and featured a murderer's row of opponents. They were fighting then just to shake the eighth seed.

Now, they will battle to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and don't expect Manu Ginobili to let his teammates treat this exam with less urgency. Yes indeed: It's Manu time. He responded Sunday with 35 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block.

His flammable 2010 tear earned him a lucrative contract extension and set the Spurs up for an ouster of the Mavericks. He did not suck on purpose those first few months. It just happened that way.

When gut-check time arrived and the Spurs faced the prospect of a rare Tim Duncan-era lottery appearance, Ginobili strapped the franchise on his back and carried it to a first-round victory.

Popovich will put the ball in the Argentine's hands again and prepare himself for another riveting show. Ginobili throws errant passes, takes bad shots and espouses a reckless style. The Spurs have learned to embrace the herky-jerk drives and those fearless dives for loose balls.

He will venture anywhere, even the second row, to chase the round thing that belongs to him. San Antonio's brain trust worried a few years ago about whether he could stay healthy as he aged. Everyone in the Alamo City should believe this now: If it happens, it happens.

And it will result from poor luck, not his being injury-prone. Ginobili schlepped his team to the regular-season finish line last spring. With a superior supporting cast, proper spacing and some new blood eager to produce, he can do it again.

The Spurs then notched their 50th triumph by trouncing the Minnesota Timberwolves the week before the postseason began. It was San Antonio's lowest victory total in more than a decade.

Ginobili and his compadres will shoot for a 50-10 mark tonight in Memphis. Popovich saw this wrench coming before the basketball gods threw it in Parker's direction. The Spurs have been smacked before, and maybe the lesson of 2005, more than the one in 2010, will instruct them now.

Duncan sprained his ankle in a March 20th defeat at Detroit and did not return until the playoffs. The Spurs entered that year with a gaudy 25-6 record and the top seed. Sans Duncan, they limped to a 9-17 finish and won the Southwest Division by a game. The Phoenix Suns took advantage and cruised to the NBA's top perch.

Need I remind anyone what San Antonio did when it clashed with Phoenix in late May en route to its third championship?

The Spurs remain five games ahead of the East-leading Boston Celtics in the loss column. They lead the Mavericks by six contests and the Lakers by eight. They subsisted during a brutal month last year. They should thrive now.

Popovich will welcome the challenge, as will Ginobili. These two men know how to deliver when it counts.

Parker could return by next week, a possibility that should quell the doomsday talk. The Spurs can also lean on this: They have not been injury-free since October.

Tiago Splitter's bum hamstring and James Anderson's stress fracture figured to prickle. Minor afflictions to Matt Bonner and George Hill should have burned the squad. Few are willing to credit those nicks as potential stumbling blocks.

They must have missed Hill and Bonner's integral contributions in the last four to five weeks. The Spurs will not hoist another trophy without Hill. Bonner will stretch defenses and offer quality reserve minutes.

A few things must happen soon to lessen the impact of Parker's absence. Popovich needs Gary Neal to return pronto. He suffered a concussion in Wednesday's win against the Oklahoma City Thunder and was held out Friday and Sunday.

It would help if Splitter became available this week. If Anderson can build on several strong showings of late, his scoring and surprising defensive aptitude will deliver a boost.

Popovich also prepped for this by limiting Duncan and Antonio McDyess to career-low minutes averages. He has taken care with all of his players not to overextend any of them.

Duncan will not protest a few more shots, and Ginobili will shrug and do what he always has. Hill finished as the runner-up in last season's Most Improved Player voting because of what he did as a starter.

Yes, the Spurs will feel Parker's loss. The Heat and Lakers will appreciate not having to check him this weekend.

Yet anyone hoping for a San Antonio collapse should brace for despondency. Charlie Sheen is likelier to discover sobriety than the Spurs are to relinquish the top seed. Parker is gone for two to four weeks, and Popovich and everyone else in the organization knows what that means.

It's Manu time, and he's primed again to clock the competition.

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