The San Antonio Spurs are familiar with strong finishes to the regular season under Gregg Popovich. But they’re on the verge of something they haven’t accomplished in 18 years.
They might not face much resistance as they aim for a 17th straight victory Saturday night when they host a New Orleans Pelicans team that they routinely dominate and could be without Anthony Davis.
Undefeated since Feb. 26, San Antonio (56-16) has built a three-game lead atop the Western Conference over second-place Oklahoma City. It’s not the first time the Spurs have closed the regular season on a torrid stretch. They won 21 of their last 23 in 2012, four years after winning 12 of their final 15. They went on a 25-3 run in 2007 before losing their final three, though they rested starters in the last two contests.
A victory Saturday would mark the club’s first 17-game winning streak since Feb. 29-March 31, 1996.
"It’s a big challenge," said Tim Duncan, who is averaging 22.7 points on 63.8 percent shooting over his last three games after resting last Saturday at Golden State. "People can get lackadaisical and look past certain games. We’ve done a good job of not doing that."
Duncan had 20 points and Marco Belinelli scored 27 while starting in place of Danny Green (right foot inflammation) in a 133-102 win at Denver on Friday. San Antonio was 55 of 98 from the field while going 13 of 24 from 3-point range.
The Spurs are averaging 112.7 points and shooting 49.6 percent during their winning streak. They recorded 37 assists against the Nuggets and are assisting on 69.0 percent of made baskets over the last 16 games. San Antonio had registered assists on 60.6 percent of its field goals prior to the streak.
"We really love to move the ball together, that’s why we’re winning together right now," said Belinelli, who hit 6 of 9 3-point attempts.
New Orleans (32-40) is also hot, winning a season-best five in a row and nine of 12. The win streak is the team’s longest since taking 10 straight from Jan. 9-26, 2011.
Extending their win streak could be difficult after Anthony Davis left in the first quarter of Friday’s 102-95 victory over Utah with a left ankle injury. Coach Monty Williams, who is already without Eric Gordon and Brian Roberts due to injuries, didn’t update Davis’ condition after the game.
The Pelicans are 3-6 on the season without Davis, who had been averaging 29.8 points and 13.5 rebounds over his last 10 games prior to Friday.
A healthy Davis may not make much difference, however, considering the Spurs have won 10 of 11 in the series and 17 of 19 meetings in San Antonio.
The Spurs have won the season’s first three meetings by an average of 10.7 points, and Tony Parker has combined for 59 points on 53.8 percent shooting in the two 2014 games.
Without Davis for much of Friday’s game, Tyreke Evans had 22 points and a career-high 15 assists, starting at point guard for the first time with New Orleans. Evans is averaging 21.5 points and 7.1 assists over his last 13 contests after averaging 12.0 points and 4.4 assists through his first 50 games.
"I always seem to make it work. I’m a basketball player," he said. "So, just trying to make the best of it, you know, for me and my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization. Just trying to finish the season out strong and win as many games as possible."