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As is now custom, Spurs ready to hit road for Rodeo Trip

Chance to bond, solidify playoff plan top priorities for San Antonio

POSTED: Feb 9, 2016 10:48 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


The business-like Spurs head on the road for an eight-game swing, starting tonight in Miami.

To steal a phrase from the actual event that lends its name, the object for the San Antonio Spurs is to get a firm grip coming out of the chute and not get tossed before the bell.

It's the so-called Rodeo Trip, an annual exercise that tests defensive abilities and packing skills, boxing out on the boards and sacking out on airplanes, late-game execution and late-night arrivals. It's about jump shots and jet-lag, running the floor and running for the plane, catching passes wherever they're thrown and catching Zs whenever you can.

It is long and tiring, yet frantic and often inspiring. It is a 6,500-mile journey that will take the Spurs from coast-to-coast for eight games, hitting four states, seven cities and three time zones over the course of 20 days, eventually delivering them back to San Antonio with more answers than questions. After all, it is the road where NBA championship mettle is often forged in an us-against-the-world atmosphere.

Many NBA teams are forced out of their multi-purpose home arenas at roughly the same time every year. The Chicago Bulls' annual Circus Trip has them on the road for several weeks each November while lions, tigers and clowns take over the United Center. The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have to clear out when Grammys occupy Staples Center.

The Spurs' journey is a tradition born of necessity when they moved from the Alamodome to the AT&T Center for the 2002-03 season. The team is forced to vacate its home each year for a large portion of February for the bull-riding, calf-roping activities of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

But it is a tradition that the Spurs have made the very most of, churning out a 75-34 (.688) record over the past 13 seasons. That's better than their overall road mark of 278-186 (.599) during that span.

What they are trying not to think about is last season when the Spurs had a losing record (4-5) on the rodeo trip for the first time ever. At one point they lost four in a row and coach Gregg Popovich insisted that they have a players-only meeting.

GameTime: Spurs Rodeo Woes In 2015

The GameTime crew discuss the Spurs road woes.

"I don't even want to think about what we did last year," Boris Diaw told reporters on Monday.

In the first year of the Rodeo Trip (2003), the Spurs lost on their first stop at Minnesota, then ran off eight wins in a row and four months later claimed their second NBA championship. Two years later (2005), the Spurs blitzed through the Rodeo Trip with a 5-2 record and went on to win championship No. 3.

Thus a legend, and perhaps a myth, began to grow -- that they need the trip. That it somehow makes them stronger.

There are more guesses about reasons for the Spurs' success than seeds inside a jalapeƱo pepper. It's often been speculated that they use the trip as one of those Outward Bound adventures that is supposed to change your life.

While the chance to bond as teammates during a long does have significance, the annual sojourn also comes along at just the right time in the NBA calendar to benefit the Spurs most. Popovich doesn't get stressed by too much that happens in the standings through the first two months of the season and then, as he gets a better understanding and feel for his personnel, uses January and early February to tinker with lineups and check out different looks. By the time the Rodeo Trip arrives, Pop is usually ready to zero in on what's working and refines his plan for the playoffs.

The trip begins with a back-to-back set at Miami and Orlando Tuesday and Wednesday, then after a weeklong break for the All-Star Game, makes stops in L.A. for both the Clippers and Lakers, Phoenix, Sacramento, Utah and Houston. The team is off to a franchise-record 28-0 start at home, but won't play its next game at the AT&T Center until March 2 against the Detroit Pistons.

The Spurs are virtually certain to be without Manu Ginobili for the entire trip, following a violent collision with New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson that resulted in a testicular injury and required surgery. Ginobili's absence will get even more playing time off the bench for Kyle Anderson and Jonathan Simmons.

Ginobili Leaves The Game

Manu Ginobili suffers a testicular injury during the fourth quarter.

The immediate question is how much longer Popovich can hold off champing-at-the-bit Tim Duncan, who has sat out seven straight games and eight of the last nine dating back to Jan. 17 due to soreness in his right knee. There had been some thought that Popovich might want to rest Duncan through the All-Star break. But teammate Tony Parker said the big fella is getting antsy to get back in the lineup.

"If he doesn't do it, I think he's going to leave," Parker cracked. "He can't take it anymore (sitting)."

Even if Duncan doesn't play, the Spurs 12-2 with David West as a starter.

This is a time when last summer's high-profile free-agent addition, LaMarcus Aldridge, looks to be settling comfortably into the lineup after a half season of finding his way. Gone is the hesitation and he's playing instinctively again. On Monday, Aldridge was named Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 26 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots while shooting 59.7 percent in four games.

The Spurs left on the trip packing a 43-8 record, second-best in the league. They have just two sets of back-to-back games, but will play five in eight nights near the end.

But, of course, it ain't their first rodeo.

"It's a great time for us to gel as a team, especially this year because we have a lot of young guys and new guys," Parker said. "It's a great opportunity just to spend time together and make sure we get ready for the playoffs."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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