An ugly loss in Memphis showed just how crucial Duncan’s Wednesday return will be for the Spurs as they host the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sidelined since the beginning of the month with irritation just above his left knee, Duncan missed six games. In his absence, San Antonio went 4-2, including wins over Minnesota and Dallas.
However, San Antonio committed a season high-tying 26 turnovers in a 94-88 loss to red-hot Memphis on Tuesday night, leaving the Spurs wishing they had had the reigning two-time NBA MVP in the lineup. Duncan was activated from the injured list in time for Wednesday’s game.
”(Duncan) is obviously the key for us,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “He’s our best player, probably the best player in the league. So we probably could have done many things better.”
Coach Gregg Popovich, though, refused to use Duncan’s absence as an excuse.
“It doesn’t matter; that’s hypothetical. It doesn’t exist,” he said of not having his star. “What exists is what happened, and they did a heck of a job. It doesn’t matter that Tim’s here or not.
“They were more aggressive. I think they competed, in that respect, harder than we did. It must have meant more to them than it did to us.”
Several players stepped up in Duncan’s absence, as point guard Tony Parker averaged 19.5 points and swingman Hedo Turkoglu averaged 16.7 during the six games. Center Rasho Nesterovic posted double-doubles in points and rebounds in each of the six contests.
“Our team did a lot of good things on defense but turnovers hurt us and the guys that were out hurt us,” Maggette said.
Guard Quentin Richardson, the Clippers’ third-leading scorer, sat out Tuesday’s game with a strained back.
STANDINGS (through March 9): Clippers - 5th place, 20 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Spurs - 2nd place, 3 GB, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Clippers - Brand, 20.7 ppg and 11.1 rpg; Jaric, 4.8 apg. Spurs - Duncan, 23.2 ppg and 13 rpg; Parker, 5.2 apg.
SEASON SERIES: 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 23; Spurs, 111-90. At San Antonio, Duncan had 22 points and 10 rebounds as the Spurs won their 11th straight, avenging a 91-83 loss in Los Angeles on Dec. 1.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Clippers - 8-23 on the road; Spurs - 22-8 at home.