Leonard excelling as Spurs visit lowly Nets (Jan 23, 2017)

BY AP • January 22, 2017

NEW YORK -- The San Antonio Spurs may be slightly shorthanded but Kawhi Leonard is hardly lacking in the scoring department.

Fresh off his stellar performance Saturday in Cleveland, Leonard and the Spurs visit the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

Leonard is averaging 25.5 points per game this season and is putting on an outstanding display of late. Leonard has been in double figures for 75 straight regular-season games and it includes 14 games with at least 30 points, which is four more than his career total before this season.

The latest big performance occurred during Saturday's nationally televised 118-115 overtime victory at Cleveland. Leonard topped 30 points for the sixth straight game by getting a career-best 41 on 15-of-30 shooting and enjoying his matchup against LeBron James.

"I'm just having fun out there playing against him," Leonard said. "We've been through battles in the Finals, and always when I'm playing somebody on a great team, it just pushes your energy and you're just having the most fun at that time. You can't be out there being lazy or scared. You've just got to go out there and compete and hopefully get a win."

Leonard played a career-high 45:59. He scored 10 points early in the fourth quarter and had the game-clinching dunk in overtime.

Leonard, whose scoring averages were 16.5 and 21.2 in the previous two seasons, is averaging 34.8 points and shooting 60.2 percent in the last six games. He also is playing 35.8 minutes per game, shooting 48.3 percent from 3-point range and getting to the line 9.7 times per game in his streak.

"I'm just in a groove," Leonard said after playing 40 minutes for the 15th time in the regular season.

Talk about an understatement for someone who is the first Spurs' player to get 30-plus points in six straight games in the same season since Mike Mitchell March 8-18, 1986.

Leonard's latest showing occurred as the Spurs played without Pau Gasol and Tony Parker.

Gasol underwent surgery Friday to repair a fracture of his left fourth metacarpal. He injured his hand during warmups of Thursday's game in Denver and is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks.

Parker returned to San Antonio for an MRI exam on his bothersome left foot. Parker is expected to miss miss his third straight game with a foot injury and 12th overall due to injury or rest.

Rookie Dejounte Murray started the last two games for Parker and produced efficient stat lines. On Thursday, he scored a career-high 24 points on 7 of 11 shooting and Saturday, he added 14 points while shooting 7 of 10.

David Lee will start at center until Gasol returns and so far has recorded consecutive doubles-doubles. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds Saturday after getting 10 and 16 rebounds Thursday and has a double-double in three of five starts this season.

The Nets will not take a lengthy losing streak into Monday's game since they stopped an 11-game losing streak with Friday's 143-114 win at New Orleans. Brooklyn was unable to win again Saturday as it could not overcome an early deficit in a 112-105 loss at Charlotte.

Brooklyn lost for the 12th time in the last 13 games since Dec. 26 by falling into a 28-11 hole at the outset. Then the Nets took a one-point lead in the fourth but gave up 10 straight points to obscure the positives of overcoming the early deficit.

Among them were season highs of 30 assists and 17 3-pointers. It was the third time the Nets made 17 3-points and each time has been a loss.

"I think we are all a little upset with how we came out in the first half," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "I don't think that's what we're looking for. At halftime we challenged them to come out with more physicality, more energetic, more physical. I was happy the guys came out in the third quarter and responded and got themselves back in the game and had a chance at the end. That's what you want on the road. Too bad we couldn't close it out."

Brook Lopez scored 24 points Saturday and it marked his seventh straight game with at least 20 points. During those games, Lopez is averaging 23 points and shooting 48.3 percent.

"We were definitely out there fighting," Lopez said. "I think what we've got to take away from this one, and last night's game as well, is the simple fact that we gave ourselves an opportunity to win, we really did. We came in and we were exhausted from last night and had a bad first quarter, but we responded to that. We came in the second half and definitely made it a game, and that's the way we've got to play every night."

The Nets will likely play without Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring), who will miss his 14th straight game since reinjuring it in the third quarter Dec. 26. He also missed 17 games with the injury Nov. 4 through Dec. 10, a game with a back injury Dec. 14 and Brooklyn is 6-25 when he does not play.

Lin did not play in the first meeting in San Antonio when Leonard scored 30 points and shot 10 of 18 in a 130-101 win on Dec. 10. It was the first time since 1985 San Antonio scored 130 points against the Nets and it was the Spurs' 24th win in the last 27 meetings.



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