Returning to the NBA All-Star Game — after being left out last year for the first time in his career — never was a goal for Tim Duncan in what has become a redemptive season for the 36-year-old Spurs captain.

Duncan discovered that a four-day break in mid-February was a tonic for tired legs overworked by a rugged, lockout-shortened schedule. There was no good reason to hope the 2012-13 season would include a spot on the Western Conference roster for the Feb. 17 exhibition in Houston.

"I want to play well and want to feel good about what I'm doing on the court," he said in December, "but I am not going to be unhappy if I don't make it."

Now that he knows he has been selected as an All-Star for the 14th time in 16 seasons, his Spurs' teammate, Tony Parker, has given him ample reason to embrace the experience.

"It was lonely in Orlando," said Parker, the lone Spurs participant in the 2012 All-Star Game. "I need my buddy back."

Parker would like to have his buddy back for tonight's game at American ? Airlines Center against the Mavericks, too. Duncan, however, will miss his second consecutive game with soreness in his left knee, the result of a fall in Monday's victory in Philadelphia.

The Spurs also will be without coach Gregg Popovich. He remained in San Antonio, still under the weather with an illness that kept him at home Wednesday when his team scored its sixth straight win, a 106-102 victory over the visiting Hornets with assistant Mike Budenholzer running the team.

Duncan expressed confidence before Wednesday's game that he would miss no more than two games while waiting for stiffness in the knee to subside. He's targeting Saturday's game against the Suns at the AT&T Center for his return.

Passed over by the fans — and subsequently the coaches — last season, Duncan had played in every All-Star Game contested in his first 14 seasons. (There was no All-Star Game during the 50-game 1998-99 season, the first time a season was shortened by a lockout). He was a starter in 12 consecutive All-Star Games, one of only two NBA players who have done so.?

The West coaches recognized Duncan's resurgent play this season, particularly at the defensive end, and Parker's continued prominence in a conference chock full of outstanding backcourt players.

"Pop always challenges me to try to have an All-Star year," Parker said. "Then you can't control who gets selected. Every year it's 12 guys and you have 14, 15 guys who deserve it."