Duncan injured but returns in win

Tim Duncan was spread out on the floor, cringing, clutching his left knee. All the San Antonio Spurs came off the bench and surrounded him, fearing the worst.

”Bad, bad memories,” point guard Tony Parker thought to himself. ”I thought something was seriously wrong with his knee.”

Turns out, all is still well with the Spurs.

Duncan returned unhampered in the second half to finish with 16 points and seven rebounds, and San Antonio overcame the brief injury scare to beat the Golden State Warriors 113-102 on Monday night.

Manu Ginobili had 20 points and seven assists, Parker added 18 points and 11 assists and the NBA-best Spurs (38-7) cruised to an otherwise stress-free victory that clinched the Western Conference’s best record through games of Feb. 6. That means Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will coach the West squad in the All-Star game Feb. 20 at Los Angeles.

Of greater importance to the Spurs was that they left town with their team intact.

”Just fell wrong, got my knee caught underneath me,” said Duncan, who had his knee wrapped in the locker room. ”Played the second half, so it feels OK.”

David Lee had a season-high 31 points to go with 12 rebounds, and Monta Ellis scored 25 for a Warriors team hoping to get into the playoff picture during a huge homestand. Instead, the franchise that knows all about postseason play dominated as it has all season.

”They’re a very frustrating team to play,” Lee said. ”I don’t go out there feeling like they’re a better team than us. When you play the Lakers you look at their size and say it’s going to be a tough game. I feel like we match up well with the Spurs. I feel like they’re a beatable team, especially in this building. And just the way they execute and the way they take advantage of any little mistake you make, it’s like a boring way to play but it’s so effective.

”There’s a reason why their record is what it is.”

The Spurs have played with the same starting five in every game this season, but it looked for a moment that their streak was in jeopardy. Duncan was setting a pick on Acie Law in the second quarter when he turned to roll to the basket and his left knee appeared to buckle slightly.

Duncan fell to the floor, cringing for about a minute while he held his knee. The entire Spurs bench, including Popovich, came onto the floor to check on the 12-time All-Star. Duncan had to be helped up but eventually walked to the locker room under his own power.

”I think he’s going to be all right,” Popovich said. ”He just kind of hyperextended it, but he said it felt good, worked it out and said it was good. He’s his own best judge.”

Sure seemed that way.

Duncan, diagnosed with a hyperflexed left knee, returned to start the third quarter and San Antonio found its spark. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker – the core of all those championship teams – helped the Spurs build an 83-70 lead.

Duncan played his usual minutes and showed no signs of being hobbled.

The Spurs, who had won eight in a row until losing to the Hornets in their previous game, hope this is the start of another big streak. San Antonio also has had winning streaks of 12 and 10 games this season.

”Their record is because of what they have,” Warriors coach Keith Smart said. ”Tim goes out for a brief moment and they don’t miss a beat because they know how to move to the next play right away. We have to be playing at a great high level for us to have a shot here.”

Notes: Spurs F Matt Bonner missed his fifth consecutive game with a bone bruise on his right knee. Popovich said there is no structural damage but the team is somewhat concerned that it hasn’t improved. ”It’s not getting better a lick,” Popovich said. … The Warriors began an eight-game homestand, the longest since they played eight in a row in the 1964-65 season. Seven of those games were played in San Francisco, and the other in San Jose.