Three seasons removed from their last NBA title, the San Antonio Spurs and their aging stars might have time for one more championship run.
The Spurs began that quest Wednesday night when they look to continue their recent dominance of the visiting Indiana Pacers.
With 34-year-old Tim Duncan entering his 14th season, Manu Ginobili now 33, and Tony Parker in the final year of his contract, time might be running out for the veteran trio to lead San Antonio to its fifth NBA title.
Still, if they can stay healthy and get consistent contributions from others like Richard Jefferson and former European star Tiago Splitter, the Spurs could be serious contenders.
"We are probably not the No. 1 favorites," Ginobili said. "But heading into the playoffs we can beat anybody. Nobody's that much better than us."
Last season, San Antonio lost six of its first 10 games and stumbled into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. After upsetting Dallas in six games, the Spurs got swept by Phoenix in the conference semifinals.
"I think we're going to have a stronger start than last year," said Ginobili, who averaged 21.4 points after the All-Star break to earn a three-year contract extension.
A strong start and sustained success could both hinge on whether Duncan bounces back after averaging career lows in minutes (31.3), scoring (17.9 points) and rebounds (10.1) in 78 games last season. The veteran big man has two seasons remaining on his contract.
Health could be the key for Parker, who averaged 16.0 points - his lowest in six seasons - while being limited to 56 games because of ankle, hip and finger injuries in 2009-10.
Parker, who has averaged 18.1 points in 17 career games versus Indiana, says he wants to remain with the Spurs, but the club is unlikely to immediately decide whether to offer an extension.
Jefferson looks to return to All-Star form after averaging a career-low 12.3 points losing his starting job at one point during his first season with San Antonio.
Opening with Indiana could help San Antonio get off to a solid start.
The Spurs have averaged 106.5 points during a six-game winning streak over the Pacers, who have been limited to 89.6 per game while losing eight in a row at San Antonio.
Indiana, which has won 20 total games away from home over the past two seasons - seventh-fewest in the NBA - has not beaten the Spurs on the road since Jan. 4, 2002.
While San Antonio hopes it's poised for a run at the NBA championship, Indiana will try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
The Pacers started 5-3 last season, but lost 10 of the next 11 and finished 32-50.
"Certainly, you'd love to get off to a good start but I believe this team will grow consistently throughout the year," coach Jim O'Brien told the Pacers' official website.
For that to happen, Indiana likely will need someone to step up and help star forward Danny Granger carry the load.
Granger has averaged 25.0 points over the last two seasons, but has not played more than 67 games in either. Granger, who could be ready to open the season Wednesday despite a sprained left ankle, has scored 58 points in his last two games versus San Antonio.
Third-year center Roy Hibbert the man to take some pressure off Granger. The 7-foot-2 former Georgetown star, who averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 boards last season, showed improvement this preseason by averaging 17.0 points and 8.7 rebounds.
"I just want to keep building and keep learning and get my conditioning up," said Hibbert, who dropped 22 pounds over the summer and went from 14 percent body fat to 8.5. "I just want to keep working, keep building my wind so I can play 35 minutes a game."