By Jon Krawczynski
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MINNEAPOLIS _ The San Antonio Spurs have opened defence of their fifth NBA title in underwhelming fashion. A blowout of the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves did little to convince coach Gregg Popovich that the precision and beauty they played with last year was just around the corner.
“It wasn’t a fair fight,” he said.
Tony Parker scored 28 points in 25 minutes and the Spurs cruised past a Timberwolves team missing four starters 121-92 on Friday night.
Parker made 12 of 18 shots, including all three of his 3-pointers, and Danny Green scored 18 points for the Spurs, who got an easy night with a game against the Brooklyn Nets at home on Saturday.
Anthony Bennett scored a career-high 20 points for the Timberwolves, who had just 10 healthy players after announcing earlier in the day that Kevin Martin will be out indefinitely with a fractured right wrist. The Wolves were also missing starters Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Thaddeus Young and backup big man Ronny Turiaf.
The Spurs shot 54.8 per cent, including 61.9 per cent (13 of 21) from 3-pointers, and out-rebounded the smaller Wolves 53-34.
“They’re a lot better than us and they were a lot bigger than us and we really struggled to secure rebounds,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said.
The Spurs have been a little sluggish in the early going here coming off of their breathtaking playoff run. The synergy, the efficiency, the edge that came while they tried to put the heartbreak of the loss to the Heat in the 2013 finals just hasn’t been there yet. And they didn’t need it on Friday night, either.
Against overmatched point guards Mo Williams and Zach LaVine, Parker sliced and diced the Timberwolves’ defence to death with dribble penetration. When he wasn’t scoring on crafty floaters or nifty little finishes at the rim, he was collapsing the Wolves’ inexperienced defence and finding open shooters for 3s.
“With our team we have a lot of veterans that need rest for the back-to-back,” Parker said. “So our mindset was to be focused from the get-go and make sure we can rest the guys in the second half.”
The Wolves stayed in it thanks to 15 first-half points from Williams and San Antonio’s sloppy ball-handling. The Spurs committed 20 turnovers in the game, but pulled away with a dominant third quarter.
Tim Duncan had nine points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes and Austin Daye had 13 points and 11 boards for the Spurs.
Andrew Wiggins scored 14 points and Williams was held scoreless in the second half for Minnesota.
“It’s a process,” Wiggins said. “It’s a long season and everyday I’m learning and getting more comfortable with different things, different situations.”
Spurs: Marco Belinelli played for the first time in nine games after sitting out with a strained right groin. He had five points in 11 minutes. … Backup PG Cory Joseph limped off the court in the second quarter with an apparent ankle injury, a scary situation for a Spurs team already missing Patty Mills. He was able to return later in the period but did not play in the second half. Popovich said he was doubtful for Saturday night.
Timberwolves: Coming into the game, Duncan had played 43, 911 minutes. The 10 players the Wolves had active combined to play 44,208 minutes for their careers. … Shabazz Muhammad had a rough night, managing just two points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Parker is shooting 68.4 per cent on 3s through the first 12 games. He’s never been known as a 3-point shooter, but said he has a goal of shooting 40 per cent this season. Popovich has long encouraged Parker to penetrate rather than shoot from deep, but the point guard has worn down his coach over the years.
“As I get older, Pop is less concerned about what I’m doing so I’m sneaking in some 3s sometimes,” Parker said.
Kevin Martin had scored 71 points in the previous two games, including 37 in a win over the Knicks in which he fractured his wrist in the first quarter. Without him, the Wolves know they are going to struggle to score.
“You’ve got to play with who you have,” Robbie Hummel said. “We can’t be consumed with who we don’t have. We can’t focus on that.”
Spurs: Host Brooklyn on Saturday.
Timberwolves: Host Sacramento on Saturday.