The Spurs signed Australian center Aron Baynes out of the Slovenian League in January as a project player, hoping he’d be able to make some sort of impact next season. Tonight at the Staples Center, Baynes will start Game 4 of the Spurs’ Western Conference first-round series against Dwight Howard and the Lakers.

With center Tiago Splitter unavailable for at least the next week with a sprained left ankle, coach Gregg Popovich has tabbed Baynes as his replacement in the starting lineup for a potential closeout game against the Lakers.

It will the the 26-year-old’s first NBA start.

Popovich’s rationale for going with the rookie, who has been limited to seven minutes of mop-up series so far, was twofold. First, Popovich hoped to keep his bench rotation intact. Second, he didn’t want his remaining big men — Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair — getting in early foul trouble trying to scrap with Howard.

He has no such qualms if it happens to Baynes, whose last name might as well be Australian for “Six Fouls To Give.”