Once Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich decided to sit Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and other key players, the result of Thursday night’s nationally televised contest against the Rockets in Houston was essentially a foregone conclusion.
Houston has been one of the most impressive teams in the league to start the season, after all, and though the Rockets took a while to mentally engage against a depleted Spurs team, there was no doubt they were the more talented squad — and eventually, they proved it.
The Rockets led by as many as 31 points in this one, before settling for a 98-81 victory that improved them to a league-best 6-0 record to begin the young season.
Instead of breaking down this particular matchup, which seems fruitless under the circumstances, let’s instead talk about the Spurs resting perfectly healthy star players for a nationally televised contest a week into the regular season.
I’ve been against this practice forever, with the main argument being that fans purchase tickets in advance to see marquee matchups like this one, and when a team sits healthy players simply for reasons of rest, it results in a poorer entertainment product that feels like a complete rip-off given the situation.
Now, Popovich has a veteran team for the most part, and it’s tough to argue with his strategy given the team’s recent results. Not only are the Spurs the defending champions, but they’ve won greater than 50 games for 15 straight seasons, and have a ridiculous streak of making the playoffs that’s currently at 17 consecutive years.
But what he’s doing, here, goes against what the league is all about, which is entertainment gleaned from the best teams battling it out in front of a large national audience, while playing the game with all of their healthy players.
The NBA could curb this practice by not scheduling teams to play in nationally televised contests on the second night of a back-to-back, or it could implement strict penalties for teams who choose to pursue this course of action. (By contrast, San Antonio could have rested players the night before at home against the Hawks, and the integrity of the national TV game against Houston would have been preserved, with the Spurs still achieving the same desired result.)
Until the league does something, however, the Spurs are completely within their rights to do what they feel is best for the long-term prospects of the franchise. On this night, that meant effectively forfeiting a game against a very good Rockets team that may have won regardless of who was on the floor in a San Antonio jersey.