Spurs win 16th straight, beat Nuggets
DENVER (AP) — As the winning streak climbs, so does the stress level for San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
At least, that was Tim Duncan’s assessment after the Spurs ran their streak to 16 straight by beating the Denver Nuggets 133-102 on Friday night.
This is their longest regular-season win streak since reeling off 17 in a row from Feb. 29 to March 31, 1996. And Popovich seems to be growing more antsy with every victory.
"Oh, very. Very, very, very. Very much," Duncan said. "He’s a teacher and wants to teach. He wants the good and the bad. Even through this streak, he’s been on us a tremendous amount, making sure we don’t rest on just the wins, but we’re learning from game to game."
Popovich found a teaching moment in the third quarter with the game well in hand. His team relaxed on one possession and allowed an easy transition basket by Randy Foye. Popovich quickly called timeout and voiced his displeasure to his team.
"Even as much as we’re up, he was still on us the entire game," Duncan said.
Hard to find too much fault with the Spurs’ effort in this one. Marco Belinelli scored 27 points, Duncan had 20 and the Spurs scored a season high in points.
San Antonio also maintained a three-game lead for the top seed in the Western Conference. It’s a quick turnaround for the Spurs, who host New Orleans on Saturday.
"This (winning streak) is great challenge," Duncan said. "It’s a big challenge. People can get lackadaisical and look past certain games. We’ve done a good job of not doing that."
Foye scored 20 for a banged-up Nuggets squad that lost for the fourth time in five games. Wilson Chandler was out with a strained groin, while Timofey Mozgov and Kenneth Faried were hampered by an illness. Faried still finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
"They’re devastated, injury-wise," Popovich said. "It’s not a fair deal."
Still, a 31-point loss was hard for Nuggets coach Brian Shaw to absorb, even if he is missing quite a few starters to season-ending injuries.
"That was an embarrassing loss," Shaw said. "Just from every standpoint of the game — defensively, body language, energy, just embarrassing, and it starts with me, just doing whatever I need to do to get our guys prepared and to come out and give the kind of energy and effort we need, especially playing the top team in the league."
Belinelli stepped into the starting lineup with Danny Green hobbled by an inflamed right foot and quickly found his rhythm. Belinelli scored 14 in the first quarter and finished 10 of 15 from the field.
"We really love to move the ball together, that’s why we’re winning together right now," Belinelli said.
Popovich insisted before the game that he’s not going to overextend his players to secure the No. 1 seed in the West. His goal is to keep them "as healthy and energetic as possible at this time of year."
The veteran coach didn’t have to worry about taxing his team too much in this one, building a 25-point lead midway through the third quarter and resting most of his starters for a majority of the fourth.
All this winning so close to the playoffs is making Popovich a little anxious because, "maybe this comes too easy," he said. "Losing is not a bad thing at this point of the year."
Trailing 20-14 in the first, the Spurs closed out the quarter on a 17-3 run.
The Nuggets couldn’t rally back into the game, like they did Wednesday in San Antonio when they trailed the Spurs by 24 only to make it close down the stretch, before falling 108-103.
"We just let them do basically what they wanted to do," Foye said. "We had more fight on their court last game than we did on our court tonight. That’s unacceptable. We didn’t bring it tonight and against a team like that if you don’t bring it, it’s going to be a long night for you."
NOTES: San Antonio kept Matt Bonner (strained calf) at home because, "he wasn’t going to play anyway," Popovich said. … The Spurs finished with 37 assists, including seven by C Tiago Splitter. … Nuggets F Jan Vesely (bruised rib cage) was back on the court after missing two games. He finished with five points. … Reserve G Evan Fournier had 15 points for the Nuggets. … Denver trailed by as many as 35 points.