Spurs notebook: Duncan shows depth of game against Suns

MIAMI — For much of the Spurs’ 102-91 victory over Phoenix on Sunday, center DeJuan Blair felt less like the guy starting next to Tim Duncan and more like a guy in the stands rooting him on.

“I’m Tim’s biggest fan,” Blair said. “It was like watching old-school Tim.”

Indeed, Duncan produced his most prolific box score of the season, going for 24 points and 11 rebounds, but the way the numbers came was not exactly a flashback to his mid-20s.

Instead of pounding the Suns in the low block, Duncan — as has been his preferred latter-day M.O. — stepped out and peppered them with jump shots.

Duncan was 10 of 14 from the field, getting eight of his baskets from beyond 10 feet. It is a skill the 13-time All-Star has honed since his 30th birthday, particularly during the past offseason.

“You have to,” said Duncan, 35, in his 15th season. “Especially this summer, I worked on it a lot and tried to extend my range a bit and get more consistent.”

Before Sunday night was done, Duncan had nudged his career scoring total to 21,829, passing former Seattle guard Gary Payton for 26th on the NBA’s all-time list.

There was one moment against the Suns that seemed decidedly old-school Duncan. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs needing a basket, Duncan posted center Marcin Gortat and ball-faked his way to a layup.

“I always think he’s got it,” Spurs forward Richard Jefferson said. “Even on those nights he doesn’t have what people normally think ‘it’ is, he does amazing things to help us win — rebounds, key blocks, good communication on defense, a lot of things that never show up in the stat sheet.”

KING-SIZED THRILL: It has been a learning-on-the-fly season for Spurs rookie forward Kawhi Leonard, but one assignment coach Gregg Popovich spared him Sunday was guarding Suns point guard Steve Nash.

“He doesn’t even know our system yet,” Popovich said of the 20-year-old Leonard. “We don’t want to give him jobs that are not in the mainstream of what he’s going to be doing.”

Had Dwyane Wade been healthy, Leonard might not have been able to avoid an All-Star assignment tonight in Miami. He would have had to defend either Wade or LeBron James.

With Wade likely out with an ankle sprain, Leonard might still see time against James, a two-time MVP.

“He wouldn’t back away from any challenge,” Popovich said. “Guarding guys like that, it’s kind of thrilling for him. He’s been watching them on TV for the last three, four years, and now he gets to guard them.”

MEDICAL REPORT: Reserve guard Gary Neal made the trip to Miami with a right thigh contusion suffered in the Phoenix game, the latest malady for him in a season that has included an appendectomy and a gash on the head that required four staples to close.

“He’s just a mess, basically,” Popovich said.

Neal is considered questionable for tonight’s game. Big men Matt Bonner (knee bruise) and Malcolm Thomas (stomach flu) are expected to be available.


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