LOS ANGELES (AP) - San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is rationing Tim Duncan's minutes on a regular basis so that he'll be fresh for the postseason. The solid play of the Spurs' backups has made that possible.
A good example was Sunday night, when Duncan sat out the fourth quarter and the Spurs pulled away to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 115-90.
San Antonio came in averaging the most points (42.2) and rebounds (17.0) from its reserves. In this one, the Spurs' backups outscored the Clippers' reserves 57-32 and outrebounded them 20-11.
``That's been key for us,' said newcomer Richard Jefferson, the only player to start all 21 games for the Spurs. ``As long as I've been in the league, San Antonio's always had a quality bench. So it's something that this team takes pride in. And now with the young guys and the development of guys like George Hill and Roger Mason, it's only going to make us better.'
Another pleasant addition to the mix had been swingman DeJuan Blair, who came in leading all rookies with a field-goal percentage of 59.3, made 7 of 9 shots and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
``He's been improving more and more, trying to understand the game and be a big part of what we do, and we're going to need that energy from him,' Duncan said. ``He's staying within himself, which is the best part of it. He's not trying to do anything special. He's just playing hard and making the plays we expect him to make.'
Duncan led San Antonio with 21 points. He left the floor with 1:48 left in the third quarter after he was accidentally elbowed in the right ear by teammate Matt Bonner.
``I try to stay away from Matty. The closer I am to Matty, the more I get hurt,' Duncan said. ``He's hit me more than one time, and I don't think he's ever been apologetic.'
As things turned out, the Spurs didn't need the two-time MVP and 11-time All-Star down the stretch. They put the game away with a 16-0 run that stretched a 12-point margin to 107-79 with 7:10 to play.
``Obviously, with that big guy on the court, we're a much better team,' Jefferson said. ``We had a couple of games early in the season that we were able to win when Tim and Tony Parker were hurt, so we're getting used to playing with each other and we're maximizing the talent we have on the court.'
Jefferson and Manu Ginobili each had 17 points for the Spurs, who shot 57.3 percent, have won three straight and eight of 11. They have beaten the Clippers 13 straight times since March 3, 2006, and have won 21 of the last 23 meetings. Michael Finley missed his fourth straight game because of a sprained left ankle.
Point guard Baron Davis, plagued by an upset stomach that prevented him from practicing on Saturday, came off the bench for the first time this season and led the Clippers with 20 points in 30 minutes.
``I've been a little sick, and I was getting a little tired and a little dizzy,' Davis said. ``But when you are out on the court, you definitely need to do something out there.'
Los Angeles used its fifth different starting lineup. Sebastian Telfair made his first start for the club and got only two points in 20 minutes - the only Clippers starter who did not score in double figures.
Spurs shooting guard Keith Bogans had an embarrassing sequence early in the second quarter - shooting an airball from 3-point range and then tipping the ball into the wrong basket seconds later while trying to rebound a missed 3-point attempt by Davis.
The accidental basket was credited to Ricky Davis - the only points by the Clippers' backups other than by Baron Davis, until Rasual Butler's 18-footer with 11:23 left in the game.
NOTES: The only seasons in which Davis started every game he played in were the three in which he played all 82 (2000-01, 2001-02 and 2007-08). Kaman and Marcus Camby are now the only players to start every game this season for the Clippers. ... Popovich needs two more victories to become the 17th NBA coach with at least 700 regular-season wins and the third to reach that total with one team, along with Jerry Sloan (Utah) and Red Auerbach (Boston).
The Associated Press News Service
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