Tim Duncan Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both sat out Thursday's game against the Nets.
Credit: Reuters

The Nets faced the Spurs without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the first time since Jan. 22, 1997.

That was during Duncan’s senior year at Wake Forest, four years before Parker joined the team and five years before Ginobili made his NBA debut.

While Parker (back) and Ginobili (hamstring) are injured, Duncan was getting a night off after playing 41 minutes Tuesday in a double overtime win at Washington.

 

The rest plan is part of head coach Gregg Popovich’s priority to save Duncan when he can and part of a plan to keep Duncan’s longevity alive without major injury. Popovich said there weren’t any analytics or research that went into his thinking but it was more of a common sense thing since Duncan is 37.

“I’d be an idiot to play him tonight,” Popovich said.

Still that doesn’t mean the Nets didn’t face replacements — a fact head coach Jason Kidd was well aware of.

“This is the Spurs, so there is no letdown,” Kidd said. “When you’re talking about the structure, Parker’s out but Mills, he looks like Parker. They got guys they plug right in and they act as Ginobilis or the Parkers.”

Barkley, O’Neal critical of Nets

The first time the Nets appeared on TNT, they were handed a 30-point loss to the Knicks that dropped their record to 5-14 on Dec. 5.

Since then, the Nets have gone a respectable 16-11 to improve their record to 21-25, but that doesn’t mean the improvement has impressed members of TNT’s studio show “Inside the NBA.”

“The Nets stink, man,” said Charles Barkley during a conference call Thursday morning.

Another point of emphasis in comments by Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal focused on point guard Deron Williams.

“Deron Williams has been hurt a lot,” Barkley said. “He’s never going to get back to Utah. His best days are behind him.”

O’Neal’s said Williams didn’t have confidence after going 3-for-12 last Saturday at Indiana.

“I was actually kind of dumbfounded when I heard a great player say, ‘I don’t have any confidence,’” O’Neal said.

Injured Nets return

The Nets were missing three players Monday night as Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko sat out but all three practiced Wednesday and returned Thursday.

Johnson sat out Monday with a knee injury that seemed to be the most concerning but it wasn’t a problem as he practiced fine Wednesday.

Blatche sat out two games after injuring his ankle in the second half last Friday against Oklahoma City while Kirilenko missed three games with a sore calf.

Johnson did get some good news on Thursday though, as it was announced he would be included in the annual 3-point competition at the All-Star Game in New Orleans.

Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.

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