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Spurs top Jazz, win third straight

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SAN ANTONIO — During the second quarter Sunday night, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard fell to the ground and came up shaking his right hand.

The famous hand, the one that had ligament damage, preventing the 2014 NBA Finals MVP from playing in 15 straight games this season.

It was an alarming sight to coach Gregg Popovich.

“I was scared to death,” Popovich said. “He started feeling his hand and everything. That’s one test you can’t give him. Before he gets back into playing you don’t take his hand and whack it against a wall and say ‘how does that feel?'”

As it turned out, Leonard was fine. In his second game back from the injury, Leonard scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Spurs defeated Utah 89-69 for their third straight victory.

Leonard produced eight points, six rebounds, a block and a steal in the second quarter after falling. He made perimeter shots on consecutive possessions, one of them a 3-pointer after grabbing an offensive rebound. He turned another offensive rebound into a twisting jump shot from the baseline that barely beat the halftime buzzer.

The defending NBA champion Spurs do not have anybody ranked among the top 50 scorers this season. But they have several players who are capable enough. On Sunday, center Tiago Splitter became the 12th Spur to lead the team in scoring, producing 14 points.

Guard Danny Green scored 13 for the Spurs (26-16), all in the fourth quarter, when he made three 3-point baskets. Backup center Aron Baynes contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds.

“That’s what’s great about our team — a lot of people can do different stuff,” guard Tony Parker said. “Everybody contributes and nobody cares about his stats and everybody is unselfish.”

Reserve center Rudy Gobert led Utah with 13 points, a career-best 18 rebounds and four blocks. Forward Gordon Hayward scored 10 for the Jazz (14-27), who have lost eight straight games in San Antonio, last winning in January, 2010.

Utah’s 69 points were the fewest by a Spurs’ opponent this season. The Jazz shot 33.3 percent, not much better than the worst against San Antonio this season — 32.5 by Philadelphia.

“Defensively, we were great tonight,” Parker said.

And much better than the last time they faced Utah. The Jazz scored 100 and shot 50 percent during a victory over San Antonio in Utah on Dec. 9. The Spurs were missing Parker, Splitter and guard Patty Mills that night, all of them injured.

Utah coach Quin Snyder said he hopes his young team learned something Sunday from the Spurs.

“They’re the champions,” said Snyder, formerly the coach of the Spurs’ D-League team in Austin. “If we can be in that classroom, it’s good for us.”

The Spurs are heathier than at any time this season. Mills missed the first 31 games after undergoing shoulder surgery. He returned Dec. 26 and missed 12 of 13 3-point shots in his first three games.

But Mills soon heated up, befitting a guy who received a three-year, $10 million contract during the offseason to provide offense as a reserve. Mills has converted 18 of 37 in his next eight games, including two against Utah.

Parker hopes the Spurs are ready to make a run that will elevate them from seventh place in the Western Conference.

“We don’t have a spot in mind,” Parker said. “We just want to get a winning streak going and then we’ll see where that leaves us.”

NOTES: The San Antonio Spurs signed F JaMychal Green to a 10-day contract on Sunday. The 6-foot-8 Green was averaging 23 points and 10.9 rebounds a game for the Spurs NBA D-League team in Austin, Texas. To make room for Green on their 15-man roster, the Spurs waived F Austin Daye. … Spurs F Tim Duncan and G Tony Parker won their 657th game together against Portland on Friday, passing Boston’s Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for second place on the NBA all-time list. Utah’s Karl Malone and John Stockton are far ahead with 906. … Reserve G Marco Belinelli sat out for the fifth straight game with a strained groin. … The Utah Jazz do not rank highly in most NBA offensive stats, but they are ninth in offensive rebounds and seventh in second-chance points with 14.8 a game, thanks, primarily to their young big men — C Enes Kanter, F Derrick Favors and C Rudy Gobert. … Utah has signed G Elliot Williams to a second 10-day contract. He appeared in three games during the first one.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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