By Jeff McDonald
Sidelined for four straight games with a sore left knee, Spurs forward Tim Duncan says watching his teammates run the table without him helped assuage any guilt he might have felt about sitting out.
Healed and itching to get back on the floor, however, Duncan on Thursday issued a warning should general manager R.C. Buford get any wise ideas about the 36-year-old captain’s place in the Spurs’ pantheon.
“I have a clause in my contract,” Duncan said. “If I get traded, I take a bunch of people with me.”
All-Star point guard Tony Parker and standout sixth man Manu Ginobili would be first on the list of hostages, Duncan says.
And as for 3-point ace Matt Bonner?
“He’d be in the top 12,” Duncan deadpanned.
If nothing else, it was heartening to know Duncan’s biting sense of humor required no rehabilitation.
Having not played since tweaking his knee in a Jan. 21 victory in Philadelphia, Duncan said after practice he plans to return for Saturday’s game against Washington at the AT&T Center.
The newly re-established All-Star concedes final say will belong to coach Gregg Popovich, but contends he probably could have participated in Wednesday’s 102-78 victory over Charlotte that extended the Spurs’ winning streak to a season-high nine games.
“We gave it a couple extra days to get back to 100 percent, kind of be smart about it,” Duncan said.
An ailment to Duncan’s problematic left knee — which was especially troublesome two seasons ago in the Spurs’ first-round playoff ouster against Memphis — is never a laughing matter.
His latest tweak came after he landed awkwardly on a jump shot late in the win over the 76ers.
Duncan finished that game with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but left Philly stiff and sore.
He doesn’t believe the injury to be a long-term concern.
“I just landed wrong. I landed weird,” said Duncan, a 15-year veteran. “I kind of jumped sideways to shoot a shot and came down and my leg kind of twisted.”
It helped Duncan’s psyche that the Spurs kept right on rolling with him in street clothes, notching victories over New Orleans, Dallas, Phoenix and Charlotte.
In Duncan’s time on the injured list, the Spurs overtook Oklahoma City for the NBA’s top overall record and on Wednesday punched Popovich’s ticket to the All-Star Game later this month in Houston.
In Duncan’s absence, the Spurs used a patchwork frontcourt rotation featuring increased contributions from Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair and just-signed Australian rookie Aron Baynes to keep their winning streak alive.
“That’s another reason I felt OK with sitting another game down,” Duncan said. “Those guys are playing so well and they’ve got a rotation going. There’s no reason to mess with that at that point.”
Diaw, who drew the starting nod in Duncan’s place, said he has no qualms with returning to a reserve role.
“It’s going to be good to have Tim back,” Diaw said.
Duncan is eager to return to the court and resume a resurgent campaign that will send him to his 14th All-Star Game after a one-season sabbatical in 2012.
In 42 games, Duncan is averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks — numbers he hasn’t reached since the 2009-10 season. His per-36 minute efficiency numbers are on par with his Most Valuable Player seasons, and he is swatting shots at a career-best rate.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Western Conference coaches voted him an All-Star reserve last week, Duncan acknowledged there was a part of him that missed last year’s festivities in Orlando.
But only a part.
“I kind of thought those days were done,” Duncan said. “It’s good to be back in the mix. It’s a weekend I’d rather be laying on the beach somewhere, but obviously it’s an honor and I’m happy to do it.”
Of course, after the All-Star break comes the Feb. 21 trade deadline. For the 16th year in a row, odds are good Duncan needn’t sweat it.
“I think he’s safe,” Diaw said.
Tomorrow (noun); a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.
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