- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Tony Parker scored 24 points to once again carry San Antonio against Minnesota, and the Spurs survived without Tim Duncan in a 93-86 victory Tuesday night.

Giving their All-Star forward the night off, the Spurs pushed their lead over Houston to two games for the No. 2 seed in the West. They did so behind Parker, who averaged 33 points in four wins over the Timberwolves this season.

One night after losing at Oklahoma City to one lottery-bound team, the Spurs rested Duncan against another. Duncan wanted to play, but coach Gregg Popovich said he wanted Duncan healthy for the playoffs more.

Sebastian Telfair and Kevin Love had 17 points apiece for Minnesota.

Roger Mason had 15 points for the Spurs, who now await a bigger test Friday at home against the Boston Celtics. Mike Miller scored 15 for the Wolves, who lost for the 14th time in 15 games against San Antonio.

Duncan sat for precautionary reasons. But skipping another game or two down the road during back-to-backs to lessen the wear on his occasionally troubled knees may not be far-fetched.

Popovich didn’t say he would bench Duncan again during the three remaining back-to-backs, but acknowledged doing so helps keeps his star healthy. Duncan missed three games at the end of February with a right quad injury.

Popovich said Duncan’s occasional knee trouble is something he’s had to deal with “more than people would know.” Duncan’s official diagnosis last month was right quad tendonosis.

“He doesn’t love (sitting out), but it’s important for him to be fresh and healthy at the end of the season,” Popovich said.

Duncan, 32, hasn’t quite been himself since returning from the injury. His 20.7 scoring average led the Spurs before his sore knee first forced him out Feb. 24 against Dallas, and he’s averaged 15.1 points since coming back March 1.

Against Minnesota, San Antonio would’ve taken whatever Duncan could have given.

After the Spurs jumped to a quick 8-2 lead, Minnesota clawed back and later held San Antonio scoreless over a nearly 5-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters in which both teams shot miserably.

The Wolves hit just 33 percent of their shots in the second quarter. The Spurs, meanwhile, hardly looked like the NBA’s 3-point leaders in shooting just 1-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half.

An 8-1 run in the last 1:49 of the third period, including a 3-pointer by Mason, built a 68-60 lead for the Spurs. San Antonio finished the game going 5-of-14 on 3-point attempts.

Fabricio Oberto, getting extended minutes in Duncan’s absence, matched his season-high with 12 points. Kurt Thomas had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Randy Foye added 10 points for Minnesota.

Notes:@ Minnesota hasn’t won in San Antonio since 2004. …Wolves G Kevin Ollie returned after missing two games while dealing with a family illness. He had six points in about 16 minutes. … Don’t count on Wolves coach Kevin McHale joining Popovich in the record books for coaching longevity. A night after Popovich coached his landmark 1,000th career game, McHale was coaching his 79th. “I can’t imagine 100,” McHale quipped.

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