9:00 PM ET, February 23, 2012
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
DENVER -- The San Antonio Spurs might be the hottest team nobody's talking about.
And that's just fine with them. They'll just silently go about their business of winning, in which it seems like a new player steps up each night.
DeJuan Blair was in the starring role Thursday as he tied a career high with 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, helping the Spurs beat the injury-riddled Denver Nuggets 114-99 to wrap up a nine-game road swing.
The Spurs have won 12 of their past 13 heading into the All-Star break and lead the Southwest Division by three games over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
So, where's the national love for the Spurs?
"It's been the same way for 15 years," coach Gregg Popovich said. "I don't even think about it."
Nor does anyone else on his team.
"We let the hyped people get the hype," Blair said.
This is a team that's racing to the beat of Tony Parker. His ability to draw defenders certainly opened things up for his teammates as Tim Duncan added 18 points, and Richard Jefferson hit five of seven 3-point attempts and scored 17.
Parker had his sixth double-double this season, winding up with 16 points and 12 assists.
"The best I've ever seen Tony Parker orchestrate a game," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "He was really great with his decisions and his passing."
The Spurs finished their rodeo road swing with an 8-1 mark. In all, the team spent 17 days away from home and logged 7,941 miles. The nine straight games away tied a franchise record.
Corey Brewer scored 23 points for the banged-up and beleaguered Nuggets, who have lost 12 of their past 16 to drop out of the playoff picture. The loudest cheer of the night came when rookie Kenneth Faried slammed home a pass from Andre Miller midway through the third quarter. That cut the Spurs' lead to 24 points.
It was simply that kind of night for Denver.
Duncan and Parker were back in the lineup after Popovich elected to rest them in a lopsided 137-97 loss in Portland on Tuesday.
While most of the Spurs receive a break, Parker will head to the All-Star Game as a reserve. He will be making his fourth appearance, joining George Gervin, David Robinson and Duncan as the only San Antonio players to be picked at least that many times.
Parker is in the midst of another strong season, averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists.
Before the game, Karl was asked what his team's focus would be against the Spurs.
"Parker," he said, with little hesitation.
But the problem Thursday was perimeter defense as the Spurs hit 13 3-pointers and shot 48 percent from the field.
"A rough night," Brewer said.
San Antonio led by as many as 28 points in the second half and looked to be headed toward a rout. Duncan even took a seat on the bench, figuring his night was finished.
When the Nuggets pulled within 12 points with 6:42 remaining, Popovich quickly summoned Duncan back into the game.
From there, the Spurs pulled away again. Blair hit four straight free throws to silence the threat.
Blair was a dominant presence down low, hitting 12 of 21 shots.
"He finds a way to score," Duncan said. "He's like a magnet to that ball -- he goes and gets it. It's just about getting his opportunities, and he got a lot of opportunities tonight and he'll finish them. He'll put them in."
The Nuggets showed their fatigue early on, falling behind 26-7 midway through the opening quarter. The team arrived back in town late Tuesday night after a 103-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Although they were supposed to have Rudy Fernandez back on the court, he ended up missing his fourth straight game with a strained lower back.
The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time for the Nuggets.
"We need a couple of days," Brewer said. "We're let down because we're a little beat up. But mentally, we're good. As a team, we're going to be just fine. We know we have a lot of guys out and we're getting guys back. We're going to be ready to make our second-half run."
Same with the Spurs, and they really don't care whether anyone's paying attention.
"That's a question from every year. I really don't care where the radar is," Duncan said. "I don't watch radar. We just play games and we'll figure out where we are at the end of the year."
The Nuggets wore retro uniforms, leading Karl to suggest that maybe the league should look into using striped basketballs in team colors. "It would be fun," he said. "But I think that's too out there." ... Miller finished with 20 points, while G/F Jordan Hamilton had an interesting stat line -- no points and nine boards. ... Spurs F Kawhi Leonard (calf) didn't play in the second half. ... The Spurs were missing Manu Ginobili, who's out with a strained left oblique. The team is 17-8 this season in Ginobili's absence.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||41-86 (.477)||37-83 (.446)|
|3PM-3PA||13-27 (.481)||7-19 (.368)|
|FTM-FTA||19-23 (.826)||18-21 (.857)|
|Fast Break Points||11||18|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||18 (1/0)||18 (0/0)|