Duncan, Spurs beat Nuggets 104-85

AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) 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 night, 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.

Updated April 11, 2010