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“That was the first thing going through my head: Could we lose a lot games and give up the first spot (in the West)?” Spurs forward Antonio McDyess said. “With Tim down, that’s a big loss.”

If there’s an upside to the injury, it’s that rookie Tiago Splitter may use this opportunity to build experience and stamina for the playoffs. Splitter was the marquee signing for the Spurs last summer: a 7-footer and the reigning MVP of the Spanish League, and at 26 years old, primed to immediately contribute.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Splitter injured his calf in training camp and has since struggled to find a consistent place in the rotation. He had 10 points and 14 rebounds, his first NBA double-double, when Duncan went down Monday but admits he was winded by the end.

Splitter isn’t a scorer like Duncan. The Spurs could certainly use his size in the postseason, particularly if they wind up facing the Lakers and their big front line.

“I’ve been working for this all season. I’m ready,” Splitter said. “Of course I’m no Tim Duncan. I’m the new guy here who wants to help the team.”