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(Photo: Soobum Im, USA TODAY Sports)
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge was unhappy with the Spurs the past two seasons and Gregg Popovich understood why.
Their heart-to-heart talk has made basketball life much easier for Aldridge, and his comfort was apparent in the season opener.
Aldridge had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and San Antonio held on for a 107-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night while playing without leading scorer Kawhi Leonard.
“He just didn’t feel comfortable and it’s 98.75 percent on me,” Popovich said of Aldridge’s struggles. “I tried to change him, I tried to make him a different player and I think that really affected his ability to feel comfortable and confident on the court. And we took care of that, basically by me letting him know that we’re going to do it differently.”
San Antonio needs Aldridge to feel at ease with the team missing Leonard and Tony Parker to injuries. Even without them, the Spurs had enough to hold off the revamped Timberwolves.
Minnesota bolstered its young lineup with the addition of veterans Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague. The quartet helped the Wolves rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a 92-91 lead with 5:02 remaining on an 18-foot jumper by Butler.
Butler, acquired in offseason trade with Chicago, knew the lead was precarious at best.
“Because we were just outscoring them at the time,” Butler said. “Yeah, we got some stops, but we’ve got to rely on defense a lot more.”
San Antonio responded defensively, holding Minnesota to two field goals after Butler’s basket.
Butler finished with 12 points and Crawford had 10. Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 26 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 18.
Aldridge had one of his most complete games with the Spurs, two days after signing a three-year, $72 million extension. He shot 9 for 21 from the field and had four assists.
He was limited to five attempts in the first quarter as the Spurs did not go out of their way to get the ball to their 6-foot-11 forward, but instead let him ease into the contest.
“I’m just going to play and whatever happens, happens,” Aldridge said. “I’m more comfortable for sure. Playing more confident. Hopefully that translates to us being better out there.”
Aldridge’s running dunk on a bounce pass from Manu Ginobili gave the Spurs a 100-92 lead with 1:42 remaining.
“They deserved a lot of credit for executing down the stretch against a very talented, well-coached team,” Popovich said.
Ginobili finished nine points and four assists, including a 3-pointer within a minute of entering the game midway through the first quarter. Ginobili received a huge ovation similar to the one he got in the team’s final game last season when fans were not sure if he would return.
Danny Green added 17 points while shooting 3 for 7 on 3-pointers. Green had two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, both off assists from new teammate Rudy Gay.
Gay, who signed with the Spurs after four seasons in Sacramento, had 14 points and five rebounds.
Dejounte Murray had 16 points, five rebounds and two assists while starting in place of Parker.
Wolves: Minnesota’s last victory over San Antonio came April 8, 2014, in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves have lost 12 straight to the Spurs and eight straight in San Antonio. … After being one of the league’s youngest teams the past few seasons, Minnesota has only one rookie on its roster this season, 7-foot center Justin Patton. Patton missed the season opener while recovering from surgery on his left foot.
Spurs: Popovich said there is no timetable for Leonard’s return from right quadriceps tendinopathy. … Parker plans on returning in mid-November from a left quadriceps tendon surgery. … San Antonio swept all four games against Minnesota last season, winning by an average of 9.0 points.
Gay, who had not played since tearing his Achilles tendon in January, was glad to be back on the court.
“Man, it felt good,” Gay said. “I kind of got emotional in the game just because I’ve been through so much these last couple of months. I’ve been getting so many text messages that motivate me to keep going. It just reminds me of what I’ve been through these last couple of months.”
Gay’s opening basket was an emphatic dunk with a minute remaining in the first quarter.
MURRAY MOVING ALONG
Murray, in his second year out of Washington, had two assists and two turnovers while shooting 7 for 8 from the field in 25 minutes.
“He’s playing with much better composure, much more control of the game and directing the team,” Spurs center Pau Gasol said. “But he’s also taking advantage of his athleticism and opportunities.”
Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau refused to blame a brief preseason schedule for his team’s troubles in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves played three preseason games while trying to incorporate a roster that is almost half-filled with new players.
“There is going to be an excuse every night if that’s the road you go down,” Thibodeau said. “But that’s not what we want to do. We have to look at film, try to learn from it and be better the next time.”
Wolves: Host Utah on Friday.
Spurs: Visit Chicago on Saturday.
PHOTOS: Best of NBA opening week
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