• Spurs pounce early to post big win over Lakers

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    LOS ANGELES: The San Antonio Spurs pounced quickly on the Los Angeles Lakers and cruised to a 119-98 NBA triumph at Staples Center Sunday (Monday in Manila) to close out an eight-game road trip.

    “It was a good trip,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his team’s six-win circuit. “We had one bad night out of 11 or 12 days.

    “I thought they maintained their focus really well, especially coming back off the (All-Star) break and playing the last couple of games. I thought we did a good job.”

    Kawhi Leonard No.2 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket as he gets past Brandon Ingram No.14 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half of the game at Staples Center on Monday in Los Angeles, California. AFP PHOTO

    Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 25 points. LaMarcus Aldridge added 16 points and nine rebounds and Spanish big man Pau Gasol added 15 points and seven rebounds as the Spurs beat the Lakers for the eighth straight time to improve to 45-13.

    They are second in the Western Conference behind the 49-9 Golden State Warriors, who became the first team to secure a playoff berth on Saturday with a 112-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

    Leonard reached double figures in scoring for the 87th consecutive game, the longest such streak by a Spurs player since Tim Duncan posted 91 straight in 2003.

    “We started the game well by attacking them from the start,” said the Spurs’ veteran point guard Tony Parker, who chipped in eight points with eight assists. “It was important, because they’re the kind of team that when they score their first baskets get a lot of confidence.”

    Brandon Ingram scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Lakers, who dropped their fourth straight.

    “We didn’t get as many stops as we wanted to start the game and it kind of got out of hand early,” said D’Angelo Russell, who scored 18 points for the hosts.

    Nineteen turnovers, resulting in 27 Spurs points, cost the Lakers, but coach Luke Walton was most disappointed in his team’s effort in the opening half.

    “We came out today and I don’t know if it was the early start or what,” Walton said. “I love our guys and I’m supportive toward them, and I think they did a good job in the second half, but that first half, that can’t happen if we’re trying to build and trying to get somewhere.

    “That was unacceptable,” he said after the Spurs built a 36-20 lead after the first quarter and never let their advantage drop below double digits the rest of the way.

    The Spurs’ 37 assists were one shy of the season-high 38 they passed out against the Brooklyn Nets in December.

    “Obviously it was a good trip to test ourselves and come together,” said Gasol, who played his second game after missing 15 with a broken left hand.

    Pistons retire Hamilton’s No. 32
    Richard Hamilton promised himself that he wasn’t going to cry, but when the time came to raise his Detroit Pistons’ No. 32 jersey to the rafters he was overcome with emotion.

    The retired former NBA scoring star returned to The Palace arena, as the Pistons retired his number at halftime of a 104-98 loss to the Boston Celtics.

    Speaking to reporters before the game, Hamilton said it had been a soul-searching day but in a good way.

    “I already cried three times, so I’m trying not to cry again today,” Hamilton said.

    It was an honor for Hamilton, not just because of his contributions to the team over the years, but because it reflected a healing of sorts between him and the organization.

    “Detroit, the fans, I love you. Thanks a lot,” a tearful Hamilton told the crowd of 20,100.

    Hamilton was the leading scorer on the Pistons’ 2003-04 NBA championship team which also included Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace.

    That group was so dominant in the finals they needed just five games to topple the Los Angeles Lakers who were led by the one-two punch of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

    Those four former teammates were on hand for Sunday’s celebration, and so was their coach Larry Brown, who simply filled out the starting roster then watched that veteran group do the rest.

    “You made me better every day,” said Billups, who was MVP of the 2004 finals. “Not only did you make me better, you made our team better.”

    Hamilton last played with the Pistons in an acrimonious 2010-11 season. He had a falling out with coach John Kuester and Detroit decided to buyout Hamilton’s contract at the end of the season. That led to him joining the Chicago Bulls.

    “I didn’t leave here on good terms,” Hamilton said. “Every day I was in that locker room with that Bulls uniform on, it’s like, ‘This ain’t me. I’m a Piston.’”

    AFP

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