Duncan led San Antonio in scoring for the sixth time in eight games with 22 points, and the Spurs beat the Sixers 97-89 on Sunday night to extend their longest winning streak since pulling themselves out of a similar early slump last December.
"We really shouldn't care that much about winning five in a row," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "It's always good. It helps your confidence, and of course your standings, but we still believe we've got a long way to go."
A far longer road is in front of the Sixers, who dropped to 5-12 and have the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. But reports that the Sixers are weighing bringing Iverson out of retirement and back to the city where he became an NBA star overshadowed the skid Sunday.
Sixers coach Eddie Jordan acknowledged before the game that Iverson has been discussed but emphasized that talks have been just that and nothing more. After the game, Jordan's availability with reporters abruptly ended after another question about Iverson surfaced.
"It's something that's been out there and it doesn't have any legs except for the media and fans," Jordan said.
Andre Iguodala had 21 points for the Sixers and Willie Green added 17. Philadelphia has lost five straight on the road with three games left on this trip, which continues Monday at Southwest division-leading Dallas.
"We're just searching for one" win, Green said.
Tony Parker and Matt Bonner scored 16 points apiece for San Antonio. The Spurs have been on a roll since a skid of three straight losses dropped them to 4-6, their worst 10-game start in the Duncan era.
The schedule might be helping. Only one of San Antonio's last five wins have come against a team that entered Sunday with a winning record, but the Spurs are about to be tested. San Antonio will play Atlantic division leader Boston on Thursday and Denver, which sits atop the Northwest, on Saturday.
Ginobili played for the first time after missing six games because of a strained left groin and came off the bench to score eight points in 17 minutes.
"We just got to keep improving and be good in April, May, June," Ginobili said. "That's when it counts. We are just building. If it happens that we have won five in a row, that's good."
DeJuan Blair had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and made his most memorable mark with dazzling successive plays on both ends in the second quarter. It began with Blair, hopping below the basket, hitting a bank shot while falling down on his back in the paint.
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound rookie then rumbled down court in time to spike Royal Ivey's layup attempt into the second row, leading a wide-eyed Duncan to spring off the bench and prompting a standing ovation for the quickly emerging fan favorite.
A person with knowledge of the Iverson talks told the Associated Press on Saturday that the Sixers were approached about signing the recently retired guard. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because talks have not been made public.
Iverson's statement this week about ending his NBA career after 13-plus seasons hardly sounded like his mind was made up. Saying there is "a whole lot left in my tank," Iverson said he felt strongly he could still compete "at the highest level."
Iverson spent his first 10 years in Philadelphia and led the Sixers to the NBA finals in 2001. If the Sixers signed him, it wouldn't be for nostalgia: injured starting point guard Lou Williams is expected to miss eight weeks, and 19-year-old rookie Jrue Holiday is starting in his place.
Jordan said before the game that although Iverson has been discussed, the Sixers still want to see if their depth can pull them out of their tailspin.
"I have not been oversaturated with Allen Iverson in my mind or in conversations with our front office," Jordan said. "It's like any other free agent out there. We've talked about a number of people."
- Sixers F Elton Brand missed his third consecutive game with a sore right hamstring. Jordan said Brand could still wind up playing the final three games of this four-game road swing for Philadelphia.
- San Antonio honored David Robinson after the game by re-unveiling his retired jersey to reflect his new status as a Hall of Famer.