Spurs’ Bonner on a Red Rocket roll

There were moments in Matt Bonner’s past when his struggles might have crushed him.

As a 20-something, had Bonner started a season missing 30 of his first 47 3-pointers, he might have crawled into a hole and never come out.

“I definitely think I used to let it affect me,” said Bonner, the 31-year-old Spurs sharpshooter. “As I’ve gotten older, I realize you take every shot independent of what happened on the last one.”

Don’t look now, but Bonner is back on a hot streak. After shooting 36.2 percent in his first 15 games, Bonner — the NBA’s leading long-ball artist last season — is averaging 12 points and shooting 50 percent in his last five.

He has drilled multiple 3-pointers in each of those contests, hitting five in two of them. The recent sizzling stretch has pushed Bonner up to 41.8 percent from beyond the arc, still below last season’s NBA-best 45.7 percent but better than his career mark.

After Bonner went 5 of 9 for 15 points to help spearhead an 83-73 victory in Memphis on Monday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich praised his resilience. It is a trait Bonner, an eighth-year pro, did not possess earlier in his career.

“He knows shooting is the best thing that he does, besides hustle,” Popovich said. “It’s not going to bother him if he misses a few shots.”

As part of his performance in Memphis, Bonner rattled in a bank shot from the top of the arc, a true sign of a player riding a hot hand.

That shooter’s mentality Bonner talks about was in full effect then.

“Whether it went in, whether it didn’t go in, whether you banked it in,” Bonner said, “if you’re open, step in and fire.”

DUNCAN’S DAY OFF: Popovich has vowed not to play 35-year-old power forward Tim Duncan four times in five nights for the rest of the season, which points to a day off coming either tonight against Houston or Thursday against New Orleans.

Popovich has not signaled which night Duncan might sit, only that he will.

“The constricted schedule forces him to miss a game here or there,” Popovich said. “Rather than reduce minutes one night, he’ll have to just sit.”

Though naturally uneasy with the idea of shirking work, Duncan said he understands the wisdom of Popovich’s rest plan.

The only Spurs player who recalls the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign, Duncan said he could already sense the difference between this season and that one.

“This does not feel like ’99,” Duncan said. “In ’99, I was a deer. I’d just run all day. This is a couple years after that.”

MIND OVER MUSCLES: Much ado has been made about the physical toll the lockout-condensed season has taken on players. Bonner says the strain of playing so many games in so little time isn’t just limited to sore muscles.

“More than physical, it’s also mental,” Bonner said. “You have to mentally prepare yourself for an extra game each week. It makes a difference. The teams with the mental toughness to be able to focus in and compete every night will be successful.”

jmcdonald@express- news.net

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