Spurs seal West’s top seed as Blazers get burned

By Jeff McDonald

One day after Cleveland’s Manny Harris went Moe Howard on Danny Green’s right eyeball, the Spurs guard still couldn’t stare directly into bright lights.

Luckily, there were none in the immediate vicinity of the ATT Center rims Monday night.

Green hit everything he flung at them in a 124-89 pummeling of the Portland Trail Blazers, going 6 for 6 from the field, 4 of 4 from 3-point range and hitting two free throws en route to 18 points.

“Probably should get poked in the eye more often,” Green said.

It doesn’t take 20-20 vision to see what happens next.

Monday’s victory, the Spurs’ eighth in a row — and a franchise-record eighth straight to come by double digits — cemented the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.

The Spurs head into their final two games of the regular season, a back-to-back at Phoenix and Golden State beginning Wednesday, with little to play for, and plenty of impetus to treat them as warm-up outings.

After watching Manu Ginobili leave last season’s finale at Phoenix’s US Airways Center with a fractured right elbow, essentially ruining a 61-victory campaign, expect coach Gregg Popovich to play the next two games safe.

Tim Duncan scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting Monday, took the fourth quarter off, then reminded everyone what happened last season, when a No. 1 seed turned into a first-round ouster against Memphis.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Duncan said. “It’s great to have that home-court advantage and be in that situation, but as we showed last year, someone can sneak up and take you out.”

Now locked into the top slot, the Spurs will face either Phoenix or Utah in the first round.

The Spurs do have one bauble left for which to play. At 48-16, they are tied with Chicago for the NBA’s best overall record — and home-court advantage during a potential Finals matchup — and must keep winning to keep pace.

Faced with a nearly identical scenario last season, Popovich showed little interest in taxing his players to outdo the Bulls.

“Everybody wants to go into the playoffs healthy, and with energy and rhythm,” Popovich said. “Hopefully, that’s the position we’re in.”

The Spurs put themselves there with a stunningly brutal winning streak, which cresendoed Monday when they did to the Blazers what they had done to the Lakers, Grizzlies and others.

The final marked a 75-point turnaround from the Spurs’ previous meeting with the Blazers, a 137-97 loss in Portland on Feb. 21 in which Duncan, Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter did not play.

The short-handed, playing-out-the-string Blazers — led by interim coach Kaleb Canales, a Laredo native — provided no such resistance Monday. Sparked by a season-high 34 assists, the Spurs reached 100 points against Portland for the first time since Dec. 2, 2007, breaking a streak of 14 games below the century mark.

“We want to always come out with a lot more energy than the other team and get a jump,” said Green, who scored 15 points during an opening half the Spurs dominated 63-41. “Our philosophy is to get in the first punch.”

By the end of the third, the Spurs led 91-65. The lone concern then — as it will be until Game 1 of the playoffs — was making it to the charter plane in one piece.

After Portland’s Hasheem Thabeet took out Boris Diaw and James Anderson on successive plays in the third quarter, Popovich rose to his feet to admonish official Mike Callahan.

“Are you watching that guy?” Popovich bellowed.

The Spurs did not quite escape unscathed. Later, reserve guard Gary Neal ran a little too hard into a pick set by former Spurs center Kurt Thomas and left with a shoulder stinger.

Based on the injury report bestowed on them the last time they collected a No. 1 seed, the Spurs will take a shoulder stinger and an eyeball poke, and count themselves lucky.

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Does regular-season success matter?
The Spurs will finish with the best record in the Western Conference. The team now has accomplished this feat seven times in its history.

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