Hill takes lead, Spurs reach 20 wins
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
Tim Duncan left the bench and headed toward the scorer's table midway through the fourth quarter. Surely, the San Antonio Spurs were in trouble and calling on their All-Star bedrock to once again save them.
Duncan had eight points and 13 rebounds in his 1,000th career regular-season game, but the Spurs hardly needed him while cruising to a fifth straight win with a 95-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
George Hill scored 22 in the fourth straight blowout for the Spurs, who improved the NBA's best record to 20-3. They were well in control when Duncan re-entered the game with six minutes left to log his fist fourth-quarter appearance in four games.
So what was the deal, anyway?
''I think (coach Gregg Popovich's) philosophy this year is to try not to play me in the fourth quarter at all, whether we're winning or losing,'' Duncan said. ''I think he thinks our team is better without me out there. I've been trying to disprove him at some point.''
The Trail Blazers lost for the first time since ending a demoralizing six-game skid that included a players-only meeting, coach Nate McMillan saying his team wasn't ''responding to him'' and Aldridge and others publicly supporting their head coach.
Portland, while disappointed, took this loss much easier.
''I thought we, as a unit, were staggered,'' McMillan said. ''We didn't have the movement and they were physical and trying to disrupt the timing.''
Brandon Roy had just nine points on 4-of-16 shooting, and Portland had just three scorers in double figures. The Blazers matched their season low for points while shooting just 38 percent.
Portland's Nicolas Batum scored just five points on 2 of 9 shooting after going 0 for 7 in a win Friday night at Phoenix.
Roy, who was held to nine points for the second time in three games, said he tweaked his knee early in the game and that it was ''a little sore going'' the rest of the way. Roy missed three games last month with an injury to his left knee.
''I still got some looks, but I really didn't have the explosiveness,'' he said.
Roy said he expects to play Monday at Memphis.
Manu Ginobili added 18 points for the Spurs, Tony Parker had 14 and reserve Gary Neal added 11. San Antonio improved to 5-0 on its longest homestand of the season and can end it unbeaten with a victory Wednesday night against Milwaukee.
Duncan has lately been watching the Spurs coast along while resting on the bench, where the Spurs want to see their perennial All-Star as much as possible. The last time Duncan was truly essential in the fourth was Dec. 3 against Minnesota, when he finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Remarkably, the Spurs haven't seen or needed those Duncan-like games during the best start in franchise history. Popovich wants to limit the wear-and-tear on his 34-year-old star, and so far the plan is working: Duncan entered the game averaging a career-low 28.8 minutes.
''As the minutes continue to drop and I'm not in the fourth quarter, I'm going to become unbearable on the bench and pretty much annoy him to the point where he has to put me in,'' Duncan said. ''That's my goal.''
Notes: The Trail Blazers have lost five of six on the road. ... Although Duncan reached the four-digit milestone Sunday for games played in the regular season, the 34-year-old was appearing in his 1,171st game, counting the playoffs.