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News » Duncan continues to fuel Spurs' engine

Duncan continues to fuel Spurs' engine

Duncan continues to fuel Spurs' engine Two months ago, Richard Jefferson arrived for the start of his first Spurs training camp and opened with a joke.

Somebody asked about the benefits of playing with a future Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan. Jefferson went straight for the punchline.

"His game is pretty much trash now," Jefferson cracked. "I've told him that multiple times, that's why they brought me in here - because of his deteriorating body."

Apprised later of Jefferson's ha-ha moment, Duncan smiled - and agreed.

"I'm just along for the ride," Duncan said at the time.

Funny thing, though: A month into his 13th NBA season, No. 21 is the one driving the bus for the Spurs .

Through 15 games, Duncan leads the team in scoring (18.5 points per game), rebounding (10.8 per game) and blocks (26). He has topped 20 points in seven of the past eight contests, his most consistent scoring stretch since opening last season with nine 20-point performances in 10 games.

During the Spurs' five-game winning streak, which they extended with Sunday's victory over Philadelphia, Duncan has averaged 20.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists, all while shooting 58.6 percent.

"He's been impressive, making the key plays," Manu Ginobili said. "He's one of the big reasons we've won five in a row."

This was supposed to be the season Duncan took it easy, backing off a bit and letting his superior supporting cast carry more of the burden. With more scorers on the roster, the Spurs planned on leaning less on Duncan and his sore knees.

Instead, with injuries to key players and on-court chemistry issues slowing his team's retooling effort, Duncan has had to be the lighthouse at the eye of the Spurs' storm.

"He's done that for 13 years," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It doesn't matter who we've traded for, who we've signed, who we've drafted. Tim Duncan is the common denominator that makes everybody feel comfortable."

Jefferson played against Duncan in the 2003 NBA Finals, when the Spurs power forward torched New Jersey for 24.2 points, 17 rebounds, 5.3 assists and a record 5.3 blocks en route to earning MVP honors. He also played alongside Duncan in the 2004 Olympics.

In many ways, Jefferson says, Duncan hasn't changed much from his prime.

The face is older. The big, black brace on his left knee looks like something out of RoboCop. Yet in certain stretches, Duncan is the same at age 33 as he ever was.

His classic mid-range bank shot is still there, for one.

"He still does a lot of the same things," Jefferson said.

Duncan was dominant at the start of last season, too, before his knees began to ache and his scoring began to plummet.

In one regard, Jefferson was right. The Spurs did have Duncan's deteriorating body in mind when they went on their summer spending spree.

Aside from ankle soreness that cost him two games, Duncan has been relatively healthy this season. The goal is to keep him that way.

That's where Duncan's supporting cast comes in.

Jefferson was born in Los Angeles, at about the time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Lakers were beginning the transformation to the "Showtime" era. Abdul-Jabbar was 32, a year younger than Duncan, when Magic Johnson arrived in 1979. He lasted nine more seasons.

"Look at how Magic Johnson, James Worthy and those guys prolonged the career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," Jefferson said. "They allowed him to take some nights off, so down the stretch in the playoffs, he could be a dominant player."

Eventually, the Spurs hope to get there with their own All-Star big man.

For now, Duncan continues to pile up the 20-point games, continues to be the centerpiece, continues to be more than just along for the ride.

"Just doing what he always does," Popovich said.

And that's no joke.

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Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 2, 2009


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