by Marcel Mutoni @marcel_mutoni

The issue of resting healthy players during a game came to the fore once again last night, as Gregg Popovich had the San Antonio Spurs’ three stars – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili – watch the festivities from the comfort of their own homes.

This act, apparently, provided the Utah Jazz with plenty of motivation, as they defeated the visiting and short-handed Spurs.

Paul Millsap called it a “slap in the face”, but Pop openly admits that resting his aging veterans is far more important than securing the top Playoff seed in the Western Conference.

From the Salt Lake Tribune and NBA.com:

Jazz forward Paul Millsap said it was a “slap in the face.” Respected San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich continued to try and outsmart the 2011-12 lockout-compressed season, refusing to bring Spurs stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to Salt Lake City on Monday for Utah’s 91-84 win. Millsap acknowledged his team was insulted by Popovich’s gamble, saying the Jazz took extra inspiration from the no-show. “I think that was a little motivation that … got us through, just thinking about that,” Millsap said.

“Well, we’re trying to survive,” Popovich said. “Our schedule speaks for itself. If you look at the schedule, you figure out real quickly. No matter how look at it (five games in seven nights this week), eight games in 13 nights, 16 games in 23 days, it’s just crazy, so I got to do something about it. It just doesn’t make sense to have those guys playing four times in five nights, or three in a row.”

Opposing coaches and players may characterize this as “cheating the game”, or use it as motivation to beat the Spurs in games they already conceded ahead of time. But Gregg Popovich knows what he’s doing, and he told anyone who’d listen at the start of the season that he would strategically rest his star players.

Pop and the Spurs are smartly taking the long view here, and betting that health and fresh legs (rather than Playoff seeding) will play a larger role in their success once the postseason rolls around.