Notebook: Spurs vs. Nuggets: 12/22/10

THE FACTS: San Antonio switched to a zone defense and overcame a nine-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, and the Spurs (25-3) won their 10th-straight game in a 109-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at AT&T Center. Gary Neal came off the Spurs bench to score 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, as the Nuggets (16-11) played without Carmelo Anthony, who is out indefinitely because of a death in the family.

QUOTABLE: "I thought (the Nuggets) were very physical the entire game -- they drove it right down our throats. Our defense was so awful on an individual basis and we weren't getting anywhere, so I was tired of begging. Then we went to the zone." -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich

THE STAT: The Spurs' switch to a zone almost totally flustered the Nuggets, who were 4-for-24 in the fourth quarter. That included missing all nine of their 3-pointers. Denver was shooting 60 percent for the game after going 5-for-6 to open the second half.

TURNING POINT: Not only did the Spurs start playing zone, they opened the fourth quarter with Manu Ginobili surrounded by Neal, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and Chris Quinn. San Antonio outscored Denver 16-6 during the 6:08 that lineup was on the floor.

QUOTABLE II: "We had a rhythm going, and they went zone and it made us a little passive out there. I was a little shocked. I've had a lot of battles with them, and I've never really known them to play zone." -- Denver's Chauncey Billups

HOT: Neal, who played two seasons in Europe before signing to play for the Spurs' Summer League team team, has spelled George Hill ably the past two games. Hill has been on the sideline with a right big toe sprain. Neal has broken the 20-point mark twice this season, and both have come these past two games with 22 each night. He has scored 17 points in the fourth quarter in each of those games.

NOT: The Nuggets backcourt players of Billups, Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson were a combined 13-for-19 through the first three quarters. They went 3-for-15 in the fourth.

FANTASY SPOTLIGHT: The M-V-P chants at AT&T Center are getting louder for Ginobili. He scored 22 points with six assists against the Nuggets. He's scored in double figures the past eight games of the Spurs' current 10-game winning streak for 17.8 points per game.

INSIDE THE ARENA: Chris Anderson, who has missed the past eight games because of a back injury, got more than a few oohs and gawks when he entered the game with one of the more extreme versions of his shaved-sides-and-spiked Mohawk haircuts.

GOOD MOVE: The switch to the zone was an obvious standout for Popovich and the Spurs. But to have players like Neal, Splitter and Quinn out there while trailing by nine to start the fourth quarter was another gutsy decision. Other than Neal, Splitter made both of his shots and had three rebounds. Quinn made a shot and had a steal. Bonner made both of his 3-point tries and both free throws for eight points in 9 1/2 fourth-quarter minutes.

BAD MOVE: J.R. Smith started in place of Anthony and had 22 points through the first three quarters. He came up with a steal with the Nuggets leading 101-99 just under the four-minute mark. But he came down court and fired up a fall-away three with eight seconds left on the shot clock. About a minute later Ginobili hit a three and the Spurs took a lead they'd never lose.

ROOKIE WATCH: Splitter and Neal, rookies who both have played in Europe the past two seasons, combined for 34 points on 13-for-19 shooting. Splitter added nine rebounds in 21 minutes and Neal shot 5-for-7 from the 3-point line.

NOTABLE: In games decided by six points or less this season, the Spurs are 9-1. ... Kenyon Martin played in his first game this season after left knee surgery. He was 4-for-5 for eight points and had five rebounds in almost 17 minutes. He did not play the fourth quarter.

UP NEXT: For the Nuggets, Saturday @ Oklahoma City, Sunday vs. Philadelphia, Tuesday vs. Portland. For the Spurs, Thursday @ Orlando, Sunday vs. Washington, Tuesday vs. Lakers.