Pop sees bright side to rout

By Mike Monroe

DENVER — After their 137-97 loss to the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, most of the Spurs decided the less said about the game, the better.

“They made about 18 3-pointers in the first quarter,” guard Danny Green said. “That just about sums it up.”

In fact, the Blazers made 8 of 10 on 3-point shots in the first period and 15 of 28 for the game, but Green’s point was taken.

With coach Gregg Popovich sitting his top scorer and assist man, Tony Parker, and his top rebounder and No. 2 scorer, Tim Duncan, there was only one thing Popovich cared about Tuesday.

“The only expectation I have is to play hard,” he said after the most lopsided loss for a Spurs team since March 5, 1997, when the Chicago Bulls scored a 111-69 victory.

And his assessment of the effort given by the nine players who saw action?

“They busted their butts,” he said.

Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard logged a season-high 43 minutes and scored a season-high 24 points, and Popovich was grateful for the experience he was able to give the player the Spurs traded George Hill to acquire on draft night.

Leonard’s ability to learn on the fly after a short training camp and a compressed scheduled that has minimized practice time has been one of the surprises of the season, according to Popovich.

“Absolutely, without a doubt, the young guys picked things up more quickly (than expected),” Popovich said. “Kawhi still has a long way to go as far as understanding what’s going on, but his willingness to learn, his effort level and his ability to focus have been impressive. Same with Danny Green.”

Dawson’s debut: Eric Dawson, the 27-year-old, 6-foot-9 forward had waited a long time to make his NBA debut.

When it finally came, he logged nearly 32 minutes and produced respectable numbers. The former Sam Houston High School star scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. He missed four of his first five shots but made all three he took in the fourth period.

Rested and ready: Popovich opted to keep the Spurs in Portland after Tuesday’s game, traveling to Denver at midday after a good night’s rest.

The Nuggets played the Clippers on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, chartering back to Denver after a game that tipped off at 8 p.m. Mountain time.

Rodeo trip rank: Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game, the Spurs already are assured the second-best rodeo road trip since the annual trek began when the club moved into a new arena for the 2002-03 season. A victory tonight would match the inaugural rodeo trip in 2003 at 8-1.

The Spurs never have had a losing rodeo trip. The worst trip was 4-4 in 2007.


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