Spurs roll as ‘Melo gets ejected

The Denver Nuggets lost their cool and composure in a clunker of a

performance.

Along with it may have gone any shot at the No. 2 spot in the

Western Conference.

Tim Duncan had 18 points and 10 rebounds Saturday, leading

the San Antonio Spurs to a 104-85 victory over Denver on a night

when Carmelo Anthony was ejected for jawing at the officials.

Anthony wasn’t the only Nuggets player who couldn’t hold his

tongue. Team leader Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith also were given

technicals for arguing in a fourth quarter that got out of hand for

Denver.

“It wasn’t their night. They had a tough night,” Spurs coach

Gregg Popovich said. “We all have them and this was theirs.”

The loss was a blow to Denver’s hopes of securing the No. 2

seed. With Dallas beating Sacramento on Saturday, the Nuggets need

to win their final two games and then receive some help.

What’s more, the loss also dropped them into a tie with Utah

for the Northwest Division lead.

“Every loss at this point of the season is costly,” said

Billups, who led all scorers with 27 points.

The Spurs know that all too well, turning in a forgetful

performance of their own the night before against Memphis.

But this helps, winning on a court where very few teams have

this season. San Antonio temporarily moved into seventh in the

West, avoiding – at least for the moment – a first-round matchup

with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

Asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how bad the Spurs wanted to face

the Lakers in the opening round, Popovich simply answered,

“Minus-5.”

For Duncan, it really doesn’t matter who the Spurs face.

“We’ll play who we play. We’ll prepare for it the same way,”

Duncan said. “We’ve got to refocus.”

The loss spoiled the return of Kenyon Martin, who was back in

the starting lineup after missing 18 games because of patellar

tendinitis in his left knee.

The forward’s minutes were closely monitored in his first

contest since March 3 because acting coach Adrian Dantley didn’t

want to exert him too much. Martin finished with six points in

nearly 23 minutes.

“Minus the result, it’s a positive for the team just to have

me back out there,” said Martin, whose team had its four-game

winning streak halted.

Martin did provide his usual spark on defense, grabbing 10

rebounds and attempting to push around and pester Duncan.

Still, Martin’s presence couldn’t prevent the Spurs from

breaking open a close game early in the fourth quarter. Leading

68-63, San Antonio went on a 13-0 run to seal it.

As the Nuggets began to unravel, they also lost their cool.

Smith was given a technical for arguing over a blocking call.

Later, Anthony was ejected after picking up two quick

technicals, exiting with 19 points and four rebounds.

Even the mild-mannered Billups couldn’t resist arguing. He

drew a technical for jawing over a call with the game already long

decided.

When asked about the officiating, though, Billups wouldn’t

take the bait.

“It was just a rough night, period,” he said.

Martin, though, was a little more forthcoming, especially

when queried if he could put a finger on how the game got away.

“I can put a finger on it, but it might cost me a little bit

so I’m going to keep my mouth closed,” he said.

That might be a wise move. The Nuggets strategy now is to

forget it and move on.

“You get a little frustrated sometimes when you feel like

you’re having it rough out there,” Billups explained. “It was just

a rough day for us.”

Notes: Spurs G George Hill missed his fourth

straight game with a sprained right ankle. San Antonio coach Gregg

Popovich said before the game he wasn’t sure if Hill would play in

either of the last two games. … Nuggets F Joey Graham missed the

game with a sprained left ankle. … With the loss, Dantley is 10-7

while filling in for George Karl this season. Karl recently

finished up an intense six-week regimen of chemotherapy for throat

and neck cancer. … Nuggets F Chris Andersen wore a splint to

protect a sprained left pinkie. … With the victory, the Spurs are

a win away from 50 for the season, a total they’re trying to amass

for the 11th straight season. … Duncan led the team in scoring

for the first time since Feb. 28. … San Antonio’s bench outscored

Denver’s 40-28.