Resting his sometimes troubled knees in the final game of a back-to-back for San Antonio, Duncan watched from the bench as Tony Parker scored 24 points and carried the Spurs to a 93-86 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
One night after losing at Oklahoma City to one lottery-bound team, Duncan was forced to sit against another. He wanted to play, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he wants Duncan healthy for the stretch run even more.
It was the back-to-back that kept Duncan out, but history was on San Antonio's side anyway against the Wolves: Minnesota continued its misery against the Spurs, losing for the 14th time in the last 15 meetings.
"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 of resting Duncan.
In sweeping the Wolves 4-0 this season, 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 the four wins over the Timberwolves.
Roger Mason had 15 points for the Spurs, who now await a bigger test Friday at home against the Boston Celtics. Against Northwest Division-worst Oklahoma City on Monday, the Spurs blew a 17-point lead. The Spurs struggled again early against Minnesota -- only a game better than the Thunder -- before putting the Wolves away in the fourth.
Spurs guard George Hill said the win was one the Spurs "desperately needed."
"I think more because we beat Houston [on Saturday] than we gave one away to Oklahoma City," Hill said. "Right now it's a tight race in the West and every game is needed."
"Duncan and [Manu] Ginobili are both out; we had our chances," Love said. "We got the lead early, but we kind of let the refs consume us a little bit. We should have kept coming hard. We made a little bit of a comeback. But they just kept going to the rim and getting to the foul line."
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.
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.
"Rough start, but we just kept plugging away," Mason said. "We were desperate tonight."
Randy Foye added 10 points for Minnesota.
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.