Trail Blazers-Spurs Preview
The San Antonio Spurs have said for weeks that earning the No. 1 seed for the Western Conference playoffs wasn't their main concern.
The Spurs, though, can wrap up that top spot by beating the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers, losers of a season-high five in a row, on Monday night.
San Antonio (47-16) has been focusing on the playoffs for much of this month as coach Gregg Popovich has given his starters fewer minutes. Tim Duncan sat out Sunday's home game against Cleveland, but that didn't prevent the Spurs from cruising to a seventh consecutive win, 114-98.
Manu Ginobili had a team-high 20 points off the bench and was one of 10 San Antonio players who were on the court for at least 18 minutes.
"Any time we get a chance to rest Tim (Duncan) and Tony (Parker) doesn't play that much, and we get away with a win, that's always a plus," said Stephen Jackson, whose 17 points were his most of his current stint with the Spurs. "As long as we take care of business and continue to build and not take steps back, we'll be all right."
Coupled with Oklahoma City's double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the win put the Spurs 1 1/2 games ahead of the Thunder atop the West. They also own the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City thanks to a 2-1 record in the season series. San Antonio is one-half game behind of Chicago for the best record in the NBA.
"We want to clinch as soon as possible," Ginobili said. "(Monday) we have a good game here, so we're going to trying to play our best and keep improving. We have room for improvement, where we can pick up the aggressiveness. We want to try and set the pace for the playoffs.''
The Spurs will seek that clinching win against a team that dealt them their most lopsided defeat in nearly 15 years. Some of the key Blazers players from that 137-97 victory on Feb. 21, though, might not be available for this contest.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who led Portland with 21 points in the Feb. 21 rout, is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right hip. Nicolas Batum missed Saturday's 93-89 loss at Memphis with tendinitis in his left quad, and Joel Przybilla and Raymond Felton were also out again.
Despite only dressing nine players, Portland (28-36) nearly completed a rally from a late 12-point deficit before Wesley Matthews' 3-point attempt with five seconds left was blocked by the Grizzlies' Rudy Gay.
"We are missing a lot of key guys from our team, but guys are out there getting better. The young guys are getting better," guard Jamal Crawford said.
The Spurs' 99-83 win in Portland's last visit to the AT&T Center on Jan. 13 snapped a three-game overall skid in the series. Tony Parker had 12 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter of that victory.
Portland hasn't suffered six straight losses since Nov. 20-Dec. 3, 2010.