Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Champions start with a victory

AFP , SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz, far right, fights for a rebound with AI Harrington, center, and Matt Barnes of the Golden State Warriors during their NBA season-openner at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

The San Antonio Spurs had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday -- past and future -- as they launched the 2007-2008 National Basketball Association season with a victory.

Tim Duncan scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as the reigning champion Spurs downed the depleted Portland Trail Blazers 106-97.

France's Tony Parker, the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals last June, scored 19 points for the Spurs, who have won four titles in nine seasons.

In addition to celebrating their latest championship in ceremonies before the game, the Spurs had reason to toast the future as Duncan inked a two-year contract extension that will keep him in San Antonio through 2012.

"To have signed this extension and, hopefully, end my career here, that's the biggest part of it," Duncan said of the deal.

Prior to the game, the Spurs raised their 2007 championship banner, and players and team employees received their championship rings from NBA commissioner David Stern.

"The ring ceremony is always a little bit emotional, but it probably keeps you from being at your best as far as focus is concerned," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "But I thought as the game got tight, they did a pretty good job of getting back in the flow of things."

Argentina's Manu Ginobili was a much-needed fourth-quarter spark for the Spurs, collecting 16 points, eight assists and five steals in the game.

Portland coach Nate McMillan said turnovers were his team's undoing.

"I knew that turnovers would be a big key tonight, and we gave up 17," he said. "When you spot the world champions 17 opportunities to capitalize before you even get started, it will hurt you."

The other two games on the opening night slate included the the Los Angeles Lakers hosting Yao Ming's Houston Rockets.

The Lakers seem a study in contrast with the Spurs, with trade talk swirling around superstar Kobe Bryant -- who was booed by fans at the Staples Center.

Even so, the Lakers managed to put a scare into the Rockets, who let a 12-point lead with less than two minutes to play evaporate before escaping with a 95-93 victory.

The embattled Bryant scored 45 points, while Tracy McGrady scored 30 points and Yao added 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets.

But it was Shane Battier's three-pointer with two seconds to play that finally made the difference for the Rockets.

Derek Fisher's jump shot tied it, before Battier's three-pointer gave Houston a 95-92 lead.

Bryant then went to the free-throw line. He made one, and purposely missed the second, but couldn't get the rebound to make a play as the Rockets came away with a victory for new coach Rick Adelman.

In the night's other game, Utah defeated Golden State 117-96.

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