San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili has admittedly lost a step, but he can still find ways to help the team. No matter how unconventional those ways can be.
Ginobili and the well-rested Spurs open a two-game trip Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena, where they'll face a Utah Jazz team off to its worst start in seven seasons.
After missing 38 games and the playoffs in 2008-09 due to ankle injuries, Ginobili has played well coming off the Spurs' bench this season, averaging 13.7 points and 3.7 assists.
He had 13 points in Saturday's 113-94 victory over Sacramento, but received his loudest cheers from the San Antonio crowd when he swatted a bat out of the air with his bare hand in the first quarter, before scooping it off the court so play could resume.
"When you can't dunk anymore, you have to find a way to make it into the news," said Ginobili, who posted a message on his Facebook page Monday saying he had to be vaccinated for rabies. "So that's what I did. I grabbed a bat. I didn't think it was a big deal."
The Spurs (2-1) didn't feel that way about Ginobili's clutch performance in their last game in Utah -- a 106-100 victory on Jan. 27.
Ginobili scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter, including a 6-of-6 effort at the foul line in the final 24 seconds, as San Antonio snapped a four-game slide in Salt Lake City.
"Until that horn goes off, you're worried about whatever may happen," Tim Duncan said after scoring 24 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in the Spurs' first victory in Utah since April 4, 2006. "Luckily enough, Manu was great down the stretch hitting free throws and giving us the lead we needed."
Utah (1-3) felt its 16-point fourth-quarter lead against Dallas on Tuesday was enough, but the Jazz collapsed in the final 8-plus minutes and lost 96-85.
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki scored 29 of his 40 points in the fourth -- many against Mehmet Okur, who was forced into the difficult defensive assignment with Carlos Boozer playing with five fouls.
"Obviously, there wasn't anything we were able to do with Nowitzki," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, whose club looks to avoid its slowest start since opening 1-4 in 2002-03. "He was sensational. He made every basket and got to the free throw line, but the most important thing he did was he was able to take the ball to the basket."
Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who leads the team with 22.3 points per game and 8.8 assists, averaged 22.0 and 11.5 in two games versus the Spurs last season. Williams missed the 119-94 loss in San Antonio on Nov. 21 with a left ankle injury.
Spurs guard Tony Parker was also sidelined in that game due to an injured ankle. In the final two matchups with Utah last season, Parker averaged 27.5 points and 6.5 assists as San Antonio swept the season series for the first time since 2005-06.
First-year Spur Richard Jefferson, acquired from Milwaukee in the offseason, hit 7 of 8 shots and scored a season-high 21 on Saturday.
He is averaging 21.7 points in six career games in Utah.
The Spurs have won four straight and 29 of 35 against the Jazz.