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San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich lets assistants lead way during scrimmages

Spurs guard Patty Mills, left, talks with assistant coach Becky Hammon during the second half of a game against the Charlotte Hornets in San Antonio on Feb. 1. (AP file photo)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Gregg Popovich was working in a mask on Thursday — though not in his usual role — when the San Antonio Spurs made their scrimmage debut at the NBA restart at Walt Disney World.

Popovich was not serving as head coach for the game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Spurs will rotate assistant coaches in that role for the scrimmages — Becky Hammon had the job Thursday, Mitch Johnson will do it Saturday and Will Hardy will run things in their scrimmage finale Tuesday. Popovich was seated to their left, slightly behind the group, for the first half and moved into a first-row seat to begin the second half with his mask still in place.

It is unclear if Popovich will wear a mask for the entirety of the Spurs’ time at Disney. He hasn’t been wearing the masks in practice with the team.

By NBA rule, all assistant coaches behind the first row of seats — there are three rows of seating in the bench areas for games at Disney, instead of the usual two in NBA arenas — must wear a mask. Popovich’s original seat appeared to be set between the first and second row, so it wasn’t certain if he was wearing a mask for safety reasons or simply to be compliant with NBA policy.

Hammon, Johnson and Hardy were not in masks.

Popovich was the coach who spoke in the team’s pregame news conference and followed NBA rules by wearing a mask in that availability.

“You know, things go on in our lives all the time that are unexpected and they have to be dealt with,” Popovich said, speaking about the restart amid a pandemic.

At 71, Popovich is the NBA’s oldest active head coach and his involvement at Disney was a discussion point during the league’s shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control say those who are 65 and older are more susceptible to “severe illness from COVID-19” increases.

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GIANNIS’ FOULS

Bucks star and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had five first-half fouls in his team’s scrimmage opener against San Antonio.

If this had happened in a real game, it would have been the first time a player had five first-half fouls since Dec. 7, 2013, when Utah’s Mike Harris did it against Sacramento.

He didn’t commit any fouls in the second half and finished with a game-high 22 points in Milwaukee’s 113-92 win.

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