SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Before proceeding to drip sweat all over the microphones of the inquisitive media, a huffing and puffing Manu Ginobili wiped his forehead on the freshly pressed shirt of a San Antonio Spurs employee.
``I just want to show you that I'm working,'' Ginobili said, laughing.
As if he needed to prove anything. The hardworking Spurs are known for keeping their heads down and charging forward, sticking together and maintaining focus on one thing: winning.
The reigning NBA champions will be trying to keep that up, going for their first repeat and fifth title in 10 seasons starting next week.
And with a team that looks a lot like it did last season, the Spurs like their chances, no matter what changes were made in Dallas and Phoenix and elsewhere.
Yes, for better or worse - given recent history, probably better - it's going to be the same old San Antonio Spurs this season. Emphasis on old.
The Spurs are aging. Witness Ginobili, one of the most recent additions to the Spurs' rapidly growing 30-and-over club.
``I'm feeling great,'' Ginobili said. ``I think at 22 I felt better. ... I feel like 29.''
The running joke the past couple of years is that the Spurs are just about eligible for Social Security benefits. Those gibes are still around and perhaps even picking up steam.
``I hope it's good, but if they're all too old then it's bad,'' coach Gregg Popovich characteristically deadpanned when asked about the team staying together. ``You told us we were too old three years ago. So maybe we're too old.''
But with age comes wisdom, and the Spurs have plenty of that. The methodical team led by Tim Duncan, who like his coach has almost unparalleled discipline on the court, will try to keep winning the way it always has: with its league-leading defense. And the Spurs know better than to rest on their laurels.
``If you thought you were a marked team then, you're definitely a marked team now,'' guard Michael Finley said. ``These teams are going to come out and bring out their best game and you have to be prepared both mentally and physically to have that type of 'X' on your back every night.''
The Spurs will pick up their championship rings next Tuesday before opening the NBA season against Portland, in what was supposed to be the pro debut of injured No. 1 pick Greg Oden. But as former top pick LeBron James found out, sharing the stage with the Spurs isn't much fun.
San Antonio overwhelmed James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a four-game sweep of the NBA finals. Robert Horry collected his seventh ring, Duncan his fourth and several longtime players their first.
The Spurs' personnel has stayed largely the same, with 12 returning players. Of those, only finals MVP Tony Parker, Beno Udrih and Matt Bonner are under 30.
The only significant addition was 30-year-old forward Ime Udoka of the Trail Blazers.
``After a championship we always had a new piece to put in ... and sometimes it takes a little time when you're trying to get used to another team's system. Here it is we've got guys that understand the system,'' said star defender Bruce Bowen. ``You can get back into it because you had a base in it before.''
That familiarity has allowed the team to take it slow during the preseason, playing Duncan and the rest of the starters sparingly.
``These guys have been together quite a bit and they've played with each other, so it's not so urgent as it might be with a young team to get them used to each other,'' Popovich said.
Parker in particular took time to rebuild his strength after a long summer playing for the French national team.
``I feel great. I don't feel out of shape at all,'' Parker said. ``I thought it was a great idea to go back in the weight room, try to build a base for the season.''
The team's cohesiveness is one thing. Motivation is another. After winning the title in 1999, the Spurs lost in the first round the next season. After their 2003 and 2005 titles, they lost in the Western Conference semifinals. It's important for the Spurs, as Bowen puts it, ``to guard against complacency.''
``It's always a tough year after winning a championship, no matter who you play, no matter what you do,'' Duncan said. ``It's always a tougher year, but again we go back to the fact that everybody's been through that before.''
Added Duncan: ``There's no better feeling than being the last team standing. And no matter how many times you attain that goal you want to do it again.''
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