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Old 12-14-12, 11:15 PM
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Spurs see more of Duncan-Splitter pairing

By Mike Monroe

Spurs center-forward Tiago Splitter played a season-high 28 minutes, 56 seconds, in the team’s 98-90 loss to the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday.

That included 9 1/2 minutes of the fourth period alongside Tim Duncan.

It was the first time this season Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had paired his tallest players for such a long stretch, and it helped the Spurs rally from a 12-point deficit to get within three points with 1:47 left.

Splitter finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and while his fourth-quarter pairing with Duncan may not signal the beginning of a trend, it showed some flexibility that could help the Spurs cope with some of the league’s longer teams come the playoffs.

Popovich said he will continue to “mix and match” frontcourt lineups depending on the needs of each game.

Duncan gave the lineup a “thumbs-up,” acknowledging he no longer needs to have the area around the basket dedicated to his own post moves.

“I enjoy being on the court with him,” Duncan said of Splitter. “He’s a great role guy for us and he gets to the front of the rim and makes plays there.

“I’ve become more of a mid-range shooter, although I did not shoot the ball well at all the last three games. That’s kind of our roles together and we click in that respect.”

Duncan added: “Defensively, he’s solid and we can play with two bigs and rebound the ball very well. He’s a good pick and roll guy, too, and we exploit that.”

Accustomed to playing Splitter with the Spurs’ second unit, guard Manu Ginobili said a Duncan-Splitter lineup will require some time for teammates to get accommodated to.

“I’ve got to get used to it,” Ginboili said. “For a long time we played with an open four (power forward), either Matt (Bonner) or Boris (Diaw) to help spread the floor. But, yeah, I don’t have a problem with it. I like playing with good players, and they definitely both are good players.”

Ready for help: Popovich befuddled the TNT broadcasting crew before Thursday’s game in Portland when he told some media members that forward Kawhi Leonard was suiting up for the game.

Leonard remained on the inactive list, but with three more games over the next four days, two of those back-to-back road games, point guard Tony Parker is hopeful Leonard (left quadriceps tendinitis) will play tonight for the first time since Nov. 15.

“It’s when you play five games in seven days or six games in nine days that you start to hurt and that’s when you need everybody to go if they can,” Parker said. “It will help to have Kawhi on the boards, and (Stephen Jackson), too. You know what Kawhi and ‘Jack’ bring, and that is a lot of energy.”

Jackson (fractured right pinky) remains out.

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