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SPURS NOTEBOOK: NOTHING COMES FREE AND EASY.

Byline: Steve Dilbeck Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO - It seems there's nothing free with the Spurs.

The Spurs shot a league-low .681 from the free-throw line this season - and were down to .623 through their first five playoff games.

``If something goes in, I figure it's icing on the cake,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``P.J. (Carlesimo, assistant coach) and I get excited like we just got a bonus. We just expect they won't go in.

``The worm turned about two months ago and we just said, '(heck with) it.' If they go in, that's great. It will be easier to win. If not we're going to have to play even better defense.''

Popovich said they've tried different remedies, without results. One day last week, they said no player could leave practice until he sank as many consecutive free throws as there were letters in his last name.

How long did it take center Rasho Nesterovic?

``We brought in lunch,'' Popovich said.

Duncan shot 80 percent from the line just two seasons ago. This regular season he shot 70 percent.

--Mellow man: Popovich was particularly loose and relaxed this week leading up to Game 2, and it continued Wednesday in a media session just over an hour before tipoff.

Popovich said the demeanor would change as the game approached.

``Everybody is nervous before the game,'' he said. ``Anybody who tells you they're not nervous is lying to you.

``You have to have a little bit of appropriate fear. So you know what's ahead, it has to make you a little apprehensive. I think that's good for you. If you don't have that anymore, it's time to go out on the deck and plant geraniums.''

--No more blanks: Hedo Turkoglu missed all six of his shots in the series opener, but the Spurs acted unconcerned.

``He's going to make them,'' guard Manu Ginobili said. ``I am positive about it. He may have a poor shooting first game, but we don't care.''

Turkoglu went 2 of 3 from the field in the first quarter Wednesday, helping San Antonio break out to its early 16-point lead.

--Local boy makes good: No, not Shaquille O'Neal. The Spurs have developed their own local player in Devin Brown.

Brown played in the Spurs' Drug-Free Youth Basketball League while growing up in San Antonio. At San Antonio's West Campus High School, he became the area's all-time leading scorer.

He also went on to become the University of Texas San Antonio's all- time leading scorer, but was undrafted. He bounced around in minors last year, playing 10 games for the Nuggets and Spurs.

This year, though, he stuck with the Spurs. He added eight points in the series opener against the Lakers.

``He was a kid who had to believe that he belongs in the NBA,'' Popovich said. ``He didn't go to a big-time school basketball-wise, so a lot of those guys have to get over that.

``And he was more of a slasher and scorer, and took advantage of his athletic abilities against guys at his level where he played. Now he has to improve his skills and be able to shoot open shots.

``He's always there before practice, after practice, working in the summer. The last two summers he's played in all the summer leagues. He's improved to the point where he's a legit NBA player and we can put him out on the floor and he's been very helpful to us.''

Steve Dilbeck, (818) 713-3607

stephen.dilbeck(at)dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 6, 2004
Words:585
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