LOS ANGELES — With the Oscars in town, and flamboyant former boxer Floyd Mayweather — in Los Angeles to celebrate his 40th birthday — staying in the same hotel as his team, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was ready to split.
Besides, the lush drinks and fancy meals had become too much.
“We’ve been here four or five nights and I’ve had lunches and dinners and wine every day until I can’t wait to get out of here,” Popovich joked. “I need to go dry out, both food and alcohol-wise. I’ve had a ball. It’s been great. I just hope half the team shows up today. [It’s like], ‘Are we going to practice tomorrow?’ No, screw practice. We’ve got to go to lunch. It’s an attractive place.”
What sits even prettier at the moment, however, is the 6-2 record San Antonio posted on its annual rodeo road trip, which tipped off on Feb. 6, and came to conclusion hours after Popovich’s remarks Sunday with the Spurs blasting the Los Angeles Lakers, 119-98.
Having endured seemingly all manner of adversity during this trip, San Antonio now turns its attention to the push for the postseason. The Spurs finally return home Wednesday to host the Indiana Pacers.
“It was a good trip,” Popovich said. “We had one bad night out of 11 or 12 days. I thought they maintained their focus really well, especially coming back off the [All-Star] break and playing the last couple of games. I thought we did a good job.”
The Spurs tipped off the road trip on Feb. 6 with a loss at Memphis and have played the majority of the trek without center Pau Gasol, who was finally able to return to the lineup Friday following a fractured finger on his left hand. Coming off the bench over the last two outings of the trip, Gasol poured in a combined 32 points to go with 18 rebounds while shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from deep.
So as encouraged as the Spurs may be about Gasol’s return, perhaps the squad is even more giddy about the development of the high flying Dewayne Dedmon, who appears to have landed a permanent starting role in the veteran’s absence. Before Feb. 24, Gasol hadn’t played in a game since a Jan. 17 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Spurs first inserted Dedmon into the starting lineup on Jan. 31 and he’s been there ever since as the club has compiled an 8-2 record during that span.
“He’s playing at a high level, energy-wise, defending well, finishing, setting good screens,” said Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who finished Sunday with a game-high 25 points. “He’s doing everything we ask him to do.”
That all makes for an interesting dilemma for Popovich, according to Spurs point guard Tony Parker.
“He’s improving, his confidence is growing. He’s a good fit with us,” Parker said of Dedmon. “He just creates a different look; the pressure with him rolling to the basket. It’s been good, and it’s going to be Pop’s decision. It’s a good problem to have.”
At the very least, the situation helped to cultivate some of the team’s depth, while all the strange environments and hostile crowds on the road helped to build some of the moxie the Spurs may ultimately need down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.
“It was different types of adversity that we handled throughout this road trip, having that [All-Star] break in between,” reserve guard Patty Mills said. “It’s all money in the bank for the rest of the season and for the playoffs. We’re learning along the way. The team is still learning each other and finding ways. That’s the best thing about it. Trying to learn how to be a professional player is learning on the fly. It’s not easy, but we’re doing it.”
Several Spurs mentioned the team was able to bond due to all the time spent on the road on planes and busses and in hotels and restaurants for team dinners.
The team also screened the short film “Love is All You Need” just before the All-Star break.
“It’s always good for us to be on the road. You wouldn’t ask for this,” said power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 16 points Sunday. “But being on the road so long, being able to have to do it every night, you kind of become closer because you’re grinding together. That always makes you better.”
Aldridge joined the Spurs in the summer leading into the 2015-16 season, while Dedmon and Gasol are new to the team, as are rookies Davis Bertans and Dejounte Murray, which makes San Antonio’s annual bonding trip all the more important.
“We went 6-2. Can’t complain about it,” Leonard said. “We let one slip away. Like I always said, we’re taking stepping points toward getting better to make a playoff push. We played eight games on the road, a lot of team dinners, walking and getting lunch together. We definitely did the team bonding.”
Over the past 15 years, San Antonio has produced a record of 88-37 during their annual road trip. The rodeo trip is a tradition that began in the 2002-03 season when the Spurs moved from the Alamodome to their current home, the AT&T Center.
Each year the AT&T Center hosts the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in February, and the event forces the Spurs out of town for most of the month.
“Obviously, it was a good trip to test ourselves and come together,” Gasol said. “Show that you can get it done on the road, build some stuff, some toughness, physicality, execution, discipline. So, I think all that was accomplished. I think the team chemistry is where we want it to be. We have two great units with great players that are interchangeable pretty much; a lot of guys who can come off the bench could start. So we have a great overall team.”