source: PAUL J. WEBER | AP Sports Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP)—The San Antonio Spurs pushed their winning streak to 11 on a night when coach Gregg Popovich committed to playing just 10 men.
That health prioritizing isn’t likely to change—whether first place is on the line or not.
Tony Parker scored 28 points, Manu Ginobili had 23 off the bench and the Spurs reached their second 11-game winning streak of the season, beating the Utah Jazz 114-104 on Sunday night to maintain their slim lead atop the Western Conference.
Tim Duncan added 13 points and 16 rebounds, making this 28th win in 33 games for the Spurs look like countless other Big Three showcases. But different this time was Ginobili, who has missed 29 games with injuries this year, deliberately seeking out contact to toughen up before the playoffs. Popovich also sat starting center DeJuan Blair for the first time all season.
“It’s time for me to join in,” Ginobili said following his biggest game since returning from a broken hand in March.
Yet he may not join the Spurs on Monday night in Salt Lake City, when the Spurs and Jazz finish an unusual home-and-home in consecutive nights. Someone shouted to Ginobili in the locker room they’d see him when they got back from Utah, though Ginobili said he did not know if he was making the trip.
Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 19 points and 10 rebounds for Utah, which dropped 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with nine games to go. Devin Harris had 18 points and reserve DeMare Carroll had 16 for the Jazz. Guard C.J. Miles left in the second quarter with a strained left calf, and is scheduled to undergo an MRI when the team returns to Utah.
“Any time you lose your top guys, it’s tough. But we’re a deep team. Injuries happen,” Harris said. “They’re unfortunate, but it’s more playing time for the other guys. We just have to keep playing and fighting through.”
Six of Utah’s remaining games are against winning teams. The Jazz (29-28) are trying to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years and are poised to decide their own fate if they get there. Utah still has meetings left against Dallas, Phoenix and Houston, all of whom entered Sunday within 1 1/2 games of each other.
The Spurs (40-14) have played two more games than the Thunder (41-15). San Antonio overtook Oklahoma City in the standings for the first time all season Friday and owns the tiebreaker with 12 games remaining.
Expect to see the Spurs cashing in on their new stockpile of depth between now and then. Aside from Popovich sitting Blair, newcomer Stephen Jackson didn’t play, either.
Danny Green had 14 points. Ginobili was 14 of 15 from the foul line, saying he made the conscious decision to attack the basket, in part, because he’s essentially trying to get used to absorbing physical contact again.
“I’m trying to start to be more aggressive going to the rim. I haven’t been fouled much,” Ginobili said.
The Jazz trailed by as many as 19 but made a game of it in the fourth. Utah cut the lead to 108-100 with around 2 minutes left, but after Duncan pulled down his 15th rebound on a missed jumper by Gordon Hayward jumper, Parker scored the final six points to finish off the pesky Jazz.
Parker went 9 of 14 from the floor and hit all 10 of his foul shots.
Popovich has insisted that health will trump seeding down the stretch, but the Spurs keep winning in spite of him trying to limit the mileage on his stars before the playoffs. San Antonio is one of just four teams with at least 10 players averaging 19 minutes—New York’s the only other winning one—and a rare Spurs midseason shopping spree has given them the luxury of even more depth.
Boris Diaw scored 9 points in his first start since signing with the Spurs on March 23. Along with Jackson and point guard Patty Mills, the Spurs are 11-1 since giving their bench a facelift around the trade deadline.
Parker said Popovich is breaking the news about who’s in and out prior to tipoff.
“He’s telling before who he’s not going to play,” Parker said. “We all have to be ready.”