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76ers remain winless after falling to Spurs

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PHILADELPHIA — San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, the star of stars in last year’s NBA Finals, was the lone star on Monday night.

Leonard, the Finals MVP when the Spurs beat the Miami Heat for the 2013-14 championship, matched his career high of 26 points and added 10 rebounds and four assists as the Spurs staved off the winless Philadelphia 76ers 109-103.

Leonard’s three-point play with 42.7 seconds left allowed San Antonio to extend its lead to 104-96, after the Sixers cut a 25-point first-half deficit to five. He finished with his fifth double-double of the season, on a night when forward Tim Duncan rested and guard Tony Parker sat out with bruised ribs.

“I try to assert myself every night,” Leonard said. “It’s just tonight there’s a lot of shots to shoot. Tony and Tim didn’t play. They get a lot of calls. I’m just out there playing basketball.”

He said there has been “a lot of carryover” from last year’s playoffs as far as his confidence is concerned, and coach Gregg Popovich said he has tried to give the fourth-year pro more of a green light.

“He’s earned it,” San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s a process. We’re not a team that goes at a player constantly. We just try to get everybody involved and move the ball. With all that, we’re trying to look for him more.”

Center Aron Baynes had a career-high 15 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio, which won its eighth straight game. Ginobili and fellow guard Cory Joseph scored 14 points each for the Spurs (13-4).

Philadelphia fell to 0-17 despite getting 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists from guard Michael Carter-Williams. His point total matched his season high.

The Sixers, without guard Tony Wroten (knee) and center/forward Nerlens Noel (hip), also got a season-high 19 points from reserve guard Alexey Shved.

Philadelphia is one loss away from equaling the NBA record for consecutive defeats to start a season, established by the then-New Jersey Nets in 2009-10. The 76ers visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, and they play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

The Sixers, down 96-83 with 7:35 left, cut the gap to 101-96 courtesy of a 13-5 run capped by a layup by center Henry Sims with 1:33 to play.

Leonard then drove the baseline and scored as he was fouled by guard/forward Hollis Thompson. Leonard nailed the free throw to give the Spurs an eight-point lead.

“The first half was not played with much energy,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, a former Spurs assistant. “I’ve seen it with our guys. You play the Spurs and you’re sort of star-struck for a second. We had no juice, no energy. … I thought as the game unfolded, we started playing through our defense.”

The Sixers limited the Spurs to 35.3 percent shooting while outscoring San Antonio 57-48 in the second half.

“These guys came at us with everything,” Popovich said. “That’s a testament to their character and the stick-to-itiveness of their coaching staff.”

The Spurs, who never trailed, opened a 59-35 lead with 2:14 left in the first half. Leonard scored 15 points and Baynes and Ginobili added 12 each before the break.

San Antonio was up 61-46 at the half, at which point Baynes had already matched his career high of 14 points. Carter-Williams scored 13 in the half for the Sixers.

Philadelphia outscored the Spurs 27-23 in the third quarter, then cut the gap to 84-76 on a 3-pointer by forward Robert Covington 31 seconds into the fourth quarter.

NOTES: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said before the game it must be “beyond difficult” for Sixers coach Brett Brown, a former Spurs assistant, to deal with Philadelphia’s constant losing. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Popovich said, “but if somebody’s going to do it, he’s the perfect guy, because he is one of the most upbeat, positive individuals I’ve ever been around.” … F Dario Saric, whose rights were acquired by the Sixers in a draft-day trade in June, became the youngest player ever named Euroleague MVP of the Month when he was honored for November. The 20-year-old Saric averaged 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in four games for his team in Turkey. Saric, originally taken 12th overall by Orlando, is bound contractually to his overseas club for at least two years. … Spurs C/F Tiago Splitter (calf strain) did not play for the 16th time in 17 games.