Leonard scores 25, Spurs beat Nuggets 91-80
DENVER (AP) Kawhi Leonard is on quite a roll. The reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year also is being noticed for his play on the offensive end.
Leonard scored 25 points, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets 91-80 on Friday night for their fourth win in a row.
Tony Parker added 13 points and Jonathon Simmons had 12 for the Spurs, who were without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The veteran stars got the night off to rest with San Antonio playing the second of three games in four nights.
Leonard is averaging a career-best 22 points in his fifth NBA season. The 6-foot-7 forward has scored at least 20 points in 10 of his 15 games.
''T.P. has just been doing a good job and my other teammates, but starting with T.P., of getting his rhythm going and when the defense collapses on him, he's just finding us out there and getting us wide-open shots,'' Leonard said. ''It just gets you in a rhythm.''
Leonard is still getting it done on the defensive end, too, creating opportunities for the Spurs with five blocked shots and four steals in addition to six assists, matching a career high.
''He was great,'' Parker said. ''He is playing well and playing under control. He is shooting the ball well and he is playing at both ends. Both defensively and offensively, he is playing great so far.''
Danilo Gallinari had 16 points for the Nuggets, who have lost five in a row. Denver also has lost nine straight to San Antonio.
''We can't sustain any effort,'' Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. ''We look great in stretches, great in stretches. And we look really bad in stretches.
''We have to be a lot more mentally tough. We have to find a way to play for 48 minutes. It's not a 30-minute game. It's not high school anymore. You have to play for 48, and until we do that we're going to continue to lose.''
A dunk by J.J. Hickson pulled Denver to 58-56 with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter. San Antonio then scored 12 of the next 15 points to carry a 70-59 lead into the fourth.
Leonard played a key role in the burst, hitting a jumper and a 3-pointer and providing the assist on a fast-break layup for Simmons.
The Spurs kept the pressure on in the fourth, starting the period by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers, two by Danny Green.
Tied 16-all after the first quarter, Denver moved in front 42-34 on Will Barton's jumper with 3:01 left in the second. But the Spurs closed the period with a 12-0 run. Parker scored nine points during the surge, including a fadeaway jumper in the final seconds to give the Spurs a 46-42 halftime lead.
Spurs: Coach Gregg Popovich on how he decides on periodic rest days for veterans Duncan, Ginobili and Parker: ''It's by the seat of my pants. I don't know in advance. It depends on the schedule, what we just did and what is coming up. This is the second of three (games) in four nights so Tim and Manu knew before I even said anything that they would sit tonight.'' ... Leonard also had seven rebounds.
Nuggets: Kenneth Faried missed a third consecutive game with a left ankle sprain. ... Joffrey Lauvergne was active but did not play. He has missed the last 13 games due to a low back strain. ... The Nuggets shot 40.3 percent from the field, falling to 0-9 this season when converting fewer than 45.6 percent of their shots.
Spurs: Host Atlanta on Saturday night.
Nuggets: Embark on a five-game trip that begins at Dallas on Saturday night.