Originally created 04/22/00

Spurs' Duncan will miss first playoff game

SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs won't have Tim Duncan on Saturday when they face the Phoenix Suns to open the defense of their NBA title.

Duncan, sidelined with torn left knee cartilage, will miss at least the first game of the best-of-five series. It's uncertain whether he will play in Game 2 on Tuesday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday.

"I'm not very good at predicting the future, but he's rehabbing every day and he improves X percent every day," Popovich said. "When he's able to go out on the court and perform without danger of injury and he can help our team, then we'll have him out on the court."

Duncan led San Antonio to its first championship last season and was the MVP of the NBA Finals.

San Antonio was without Duncan the last four games of the regular season but won three of those contests, including games in the past week against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers.

The Spurs beat the Lakers in overtime Wednesday to edge out Phoenix for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and homecourt advantage in the first round.

The two teams finished with the same regular-season record and split their season series 2-2. But San Antonio owns the tiebreaker, having the better record against Western Conference teams.

Phoenix is preparing for San Antonio as though Duncan is playing.

"Yes, we are. I mean, why should we go in preparing for him not to play?" Cliff Robinson asked. "I've played him quite a bit. It's a tough matchup, but he's been out for a little bit so hopefully he'll be getting off to a slow start if he does play."

On Friday, Duncan ran in straight lines and practiced shooting. He said his knee is feeling better all the time.

The spacing of games could give Duncan time to heal before the series ends. Game 3 in Phoenix is a full week after Saturday's opener in the Alamodome.

Duncan believes the Spurs can win the opening series without him if necessary. Although he wants to play, Duncan hasn't minded watching and cheering from the bench lately.

"It's not frustrating right now, because these guys are playing well and they're winning games," he said. "But I want to be out there."

The Spurs say they are impressed by the Suns' shooting skills and their willingness to pass the ball to one another.

"They give people a lot of trouble because all their players can shoot," Popovich said. "They can all shoot three's. They really spread the court. They're willing to let 'em fly."

The Suns are struggling with injuries of their own.

Phoenix placed All-Star guard Jason Kidd on its playoff roster, but he isn't expected to play until at least Game 3 in the first round. He's been out since March 22 with a broken left ankle.

Tom Gugliotta is out for the season with two torn ligaments in his left knee. Rex Chapman, who hasn't played since his emergency appendectomy March 18, was left off the Suns' playoff roster.

Kevin Johnson missed three of the last four games with a groin strain, but expects to play Saturday.

The Suns had homecourt advantage all but sewn up entering the final week of the regular season. But Phoenix lost two of its last three games, and San Antonio caught up by defeating the Lakers in the last game.

Despite his team's recent difficulties, Suns coach Scott Skiles said his players seem confident entering the postseason.

"Sometimes I've seen this before where you kind of feel like you're limping into the playoffs, but it is a new season," Skiles said. "It's almost like people feel like they've got to get a fresh start.

"Hopefully that's the way we'll feel and we'll go there and play well."


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