by Marcel Mutoni@marcel_mutoni

When Tim Duncan went down with a brutal-looking ankle injury on Monday night, the conventional wisdom was that he’d be out for quite a bit of time (2 to 3 weeks was the general approximation.)

According to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan could be back in the lineup a bit earlier. Speaking to the media prior to last night’s close loss in Denver, Popovich sounded confident that his big man would be back well before the Playoffs.

From the Express-News:

The initial best guess on Duncan’s return, offered by Spurs TV analyst Sean Elliott an hour or so after Duncan sprained the ankle Monday against Golden State, was approximately two weeks. “I’m hoping it won’t be that long,” Popovich said. “A good four or five games for sure. Beyond that, I won’t really know until we get back.” … An MRI taken Tuesday revealed no structural damage in the ankle.

“Once he gets back on the court in a couple of days, we’ll be able to tell more,” Popovich said. “But four or five games for sure.” Asked again before tonight’s game if team doctors had given him any indication Duncan might not be ready for the start of the playoffs, Popovich was adamant. “No, no, no,” he said.

San Antonio’s strangle hold on the top overall seed in the NBA seems fairly secure — they lead the Lakers by six games in the West — but their schedule sans Duncan will not be easy.

The Spurs’ next four games are all against Playoff-bound teams.