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Leonard, Aldridge lead healthy Spurs past Nets, 109-97
By RAUL DOMINGUEZ
SAN ANTONIO (AP) The Spurs' first game with every player healthy and available went as the team expected.
There was some hesitation and a rash of early turnovers, but they grew comfortable as the game progressed.
"(The rash of injuries is) very unusual for us, but we still have a month and a half until the rodeo (road trip) starts," Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili said. "This is a good time to get everybody playing, everybody feeling good. Get Kawhi and Tony (Parker) back to their usual selves, back to their rhythm, feeling good and I think we are accomplishing that. Slowly, because they haven't been back for so long, but they are really showing progress."
San Antonio is third in the Western Conference at 24-11 despite being without Leonard and/or Parker for 30 games this season.
Aldridge has led the team during the duo's absence and his resurgent season has not slowed with their return. The 6-foot-11 forward was 7 for 15 from the field and had nine rebounds against Brooklyn.
"You know, obviously, watching (Aldridge and Pau Gasol) play and see them do the things they do for our team is great, and it inspires everyone on the bench, me, even guys playing," Leonard said. "But just with me, just taking it slow and trying not to skip any steps, like I said before, so I can be healthy down the road."
Playing in just his fifth game, Leonard was 8 for 17 from the field in scoring a season high. He made his first appearance in the fourth quarter, scoring four points in three minutes.
"When Kawhi checked into the game in the fourth quarter, that wasn't a welcome sign," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "It just changes the game. He makes such a difference. Defensively, it's just unbelievable. I felt like he was guarding our whole team at times."
Playing with a full roster for the first time led to some indecision, as the Spurs scored just 19 points in the opening quarter while trying to involve all their scoring options.
"We went to being too careful," said reserve guard Patty Mills, who scored 11 points. "That caused us to turn the ball over."
San Antonio had nine of their 12 turnovers in the first half, but offset that by holding Brooklyn to 36 percent shooting.
Gasol added 15 points, Parker had 14 and Ginobili had 11.
Caris LeVert led Brooklyn with 18 points and Allen Crabbe added 15.
"I like the process. The results weren't great offensively but we did some good things," Atkinson said.
Nets: Russell has not played since Nov. 11, missing his 20th straight game. He is expected to be back in the first half of January after undergoing left knee surgery Nov. 17. ... The Nets are 4-41 on the road against the Spurs in franchise history. Their last win in San Antonio in the regular season was a 92-86 victory on Jan. 22, 2002, at the Alamodome. ... Atkinson was assessed a technical foul with 6:45 left in the third quarter after bolting from his seat and running to midcourt to protest an offensive foul call on Crabbe.
Spurs: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has 1,174 career victories, placing him one shy of tying George Karl for fifth all-time. ... Gasol collected his 10,817th rebound, moving him past Jack Sikma for 30th in league history. ... Aldridge has led the Spurs in scoring 28 times in 33 games after doing so a combined 37 times in his first two seasons with the team. ... The Spurs are 16-2 at home, the league's best home record.
NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
Popovich shrugged off any difficulties he could face while trying to decide on rotations and minutes now that the Spurs roster is fully available.
"It's basketball, it's not the Middle East peace process," Popovich said. "It's not figuring out why our democracy is being eroded. It's pick-and-roll. Big deal."?
TIME WILL TELL
Ginobili said the team hopes to gel completely during the team's annual rodeo road trip, a monthlong excursion in February while the AT&T Center is hosting the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
"That's when we usually start getting the shape that we want in the playoffs," Ginobili said. "So, that's when it starts and hopefully this year we are in the same mode and from there we keep building until April comes."
Former Spurs star Tim Duncan was in attendance for the second time this season. Duncan's only appearance last season came during his retirement ceremony.
Nets: Visit New Orleans on Wednesday.
Spurs: Host New York on Thursday.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Updated December 27, 2017