LeBron going back to Cavs:

Spurs, minus three stars, knock off Bulls

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Being short-handed means little to San Antonio.

Playing without their three leading scorers, the Spurs knocked off the Chicago Bulls 103-89 at the United Center on Monday.

Kawhi Leonard had a big night, scoring a career-high 26 points thanks to 11-of-18 shooting from the field. Danny Green added 18 points, and Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal scored 16 each.

The Spurs played without Tony Parker (sore right knee), Tim Duncan (sore left knee) and Manu Ginobili (tight left hamstring). Like the Bulls, though, San Antonio (41-12) ignores such difficulties. Chicago (30-21) sits in fourth place in the East, despite being without Derrick Rose all season.

"It starts with Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich)," Green said. "Pop doesn't take any excuses or reasons for losing games. We have to come out and execute. We're all professionals here. We're not going to say, 'We don't have this guy.' Regardless, we have to play."

The Spurs were also playing the second leg of back-to-back games, while the Bulls had two days off after finishing a six-game road trip in Utah on Friday. San Antonio beat Brooklyn on Sunday, with Parker but without Duncan and Ginobili, and the Spurs have now won 13 of their last 14 games.

"You'd hope you can play with anybody in your system, but it was a tough challenge for them tonight," Popovich said. "I couldn't be more proud of what they did."

It looked as though the Bulls would catch San Antonio from behind, rallying from 14 points down in the third quarter to pull within 76-75 on a Taj Gibson dunk just over two minutes into the fourth quarter.

That's when the Spurs went to work on both ends of the floor. They scored on their next six possessions by playing smart. They moved the ball, drew fouls and forced turnovers. Leonard's fast-break dunk with 5:54 remaining gave the visitors a 89-78 lead.

Leonard, usually a defensive specialist, obliterated his previous season high of 19 points.

"He's a guy that we're just trying to expand his game, but we don't really know what direction to go in," Popovich said. "He's a really talented kid, hard worker, really wants to be a great player. We called a couple (plays for him), but everything else he did, he did on his own. He's going to be a good one."

The Bulls finished with 19 turnovers, which led to 29 San Antonio points. Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 20 points, Richard Hamilton added 16 and Carlos Boozer scored 14. Luol Deng had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Chicago center Joakim Noah played his third game after missing three with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He doesn't seem restricted at all, playing 38 minutes Monday and finishing with seven points and 15 rebounds. The Bulls rolled up a 49-26 rebounding edge as a team.

"You have to give credit where credit is due," Noah said. "They played very well, they stick to their game plan. We're not playing very good basketball right now. We're on top of each other offensively. We're not trusting each other defensively. We have to play better."

Chicago led 27-20 early in the second quarter, but the Spurs turned the tables with an 18-5 run. In the third quarter, San Antonio knocked down five of six shots from 3-point range to build a 14-point lead on three occasions.

The Bulls, one of the league's best defensive teams, gave up 100 points for the third time in the past four games and fell to 15-12 at home this season.

"We have to get our intensity back. We have to get our discipline back," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. "This thing's going to be a fight, and our road's a tough one. If we're not committed to the grind, it's not going to be good."

NOTES: It was no surprise that Duncan and Ginobili didn't play, but the absence of point guard Parker was unexpected. Popovich said before the game that Parker's right knee swelled up overnight after bothering him during Sunday's win in Brooklyn. Duncan has missed eight of the past nine games, and Ginobili has sat out five straight. ... San Antonio forward Stephen Jackson missed the game because of personal reasons. ... Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich missed his sixth straight game with a right elbow injury. ... There is still no word on when Rose, recovering from left knee surgery, will be ready for game action. "We're not going to say, 'It's going to be this day,'" Thibodeau said Sunday. "When he's ready, he'll go." ... Popovich on whether Parker, Duncan or Ginobili might play Wednesday in Cleveland, the Spurs' final game before the All-Star break: "That's so far into the future. How in the world do you expect (an answer)?"
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