SAN ANTONIO (AP) – San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich repeated his pat answer when he was asked how his Spurs will customize their game to fit their yet-to-be-decided opponent in the NBA Finals – the Miami Heat or the Detroit Pistons.

“At this point of the season, each of us is who we are,” Popovich said. “None of us is going to change right now.”

It’s a well-worn line, but some of the Spurs players are talking otherwise.

They say they are making some changes for the championship series after having so much success playing full-throttle offense while eliminating the Phoenix Suns in five games in the Western Conference finals.

“One of the things we realized against Phoenix is that if we push upfield, we’re pretty potent offensively,” said Robert Horry, who will be playing for his sixth championship ring with a third team.

Horry said the long break that the Spurs are getting after ousting Phoenix last Wednesday is generally a good thing.

“The bad thing is that Pop’s throwing in about 50 other plays and that’s confusing me,” he said. “This time off is just allowing him to be creative offensively.”

San Antonio has long been among the NBA’s top defensive teams – this season it allowed opponents a league-low 88.3 points per game.

And the Spurs have long been seen as a bland bunch on offense – just dump the ball into Tim Duncan on the block and let him do his thing.

Duncan’s still the first offensive option, but this season he posted the lowest scoring numbers of his eight-year career. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have both emerged as legitimate scoring threats, and San Antonio has increasingly relied on transition scoring sparked by its smothering defense.

In their five-game series, the freewheeling Spurs outscored the Suns – the league’s No. 1 offense during the regular season – by an average of five points.

When the Finals get under way on Thursday, expect to see more of that up-tempo approach.

“I think that’s one of the things we’re going to stress a little bit more is to push upfield and try to make the other team get back defensively,” Horry said.

Bruce Bowen said the series against the Suns showed the Spurs how effective their running game can be, so there’s no reason not to keep it up.

“You want those types of points, you want those types of transition baskets,” he said. “That’s something we worked on all year and it kind of paid off even more against Phoenix.”

The Spurs took a couple of days off after the Phoenix series, and they’ll be off again Monday. But their practice sessions remain strenuous even though some of the players – most notably Duncan and Ginobili – are contending with injuries.

“Maybe that’s not smart on my part, maybe it is, I don’t know, but I think we have to stay sharp and that’s the only way I know to stay sharp,” Popovich said Sunday following an intense session lasting nearly two hours.

Bowen agreed, saying, “Pop is making sure we don’t get out of shape, I’ll tell you that.”

Duncan said the eight days between the end of the Phoenix series and start of the Finals will help him strengthen his sore ankles.

“But I don’t think I’m going to be 100 percent until I go through the summer and have an extended period of time off,” he said. “Right now, I’m just biding my time until the game starts.”

AP-ES-06-05-05 1759EDT


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