The San Antonio Spurs had been relatively healthy through the first few months of the season, but injuries have started to take their toll in the past few weeks.
The latest one couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Already without Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, the Spurs now have to adjust to not having Kawhi Leonard when they begin a stretch of 12 of 14 on the road Friday night against former assistant Mike Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks.
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Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have only missed a total of 10 games – a handful of which were for rest – but some other key pieces of San Antonio’s core have taken a hit lately. Splitter has been out since early January with a shoulder sprain, Green has been out since Jan. 13 with a broken left hand that could sideline him until the All-Star break and now Leonard is expected to miss a month with a broken right hand.
Leonard’s injury occurred in the first half of Wednesday’s 111-105 home loss to Oklahoma City.
”(Losing Leonard) is a big loss for us,” said Parker, who’s dealing with a bruised shin. ”We are already down Tiago and Danny, but everyone goes through injuries and we have to deal with it. Other guys are going to have to step up, but we just have to keep playing.”
The Spurs (32-10) now hit the road for three straight before returning home briefly ahead of their nine-game rodeo trip, but they’ve been awfully good at not dwelling on their losses. They’re the only team in the league that’s yet to lose back-to-back games, bouncing back to win by an average of 13.6 points after their first nine defeats.
One of those situations came against Atlanta (22-19) on Dec. 2, when the Spurs faced Budenholzer for the first time since the longtime assistant got the Hawks job in the midst of San Antonio’s run to the NBA Finals last season.
Duncan hit a jumper with 0.4 seconds left to give the Spurs a 102-100 win in that game, finishing with 23 points and 21 boards and becoming the oldest player with a 20-20 since the league began keeping track of rebounds in 1985-86.
That was San Antonio’s 13th victory in the last 14 games in this series.
Hawks center Pero Antic didn’t play in that one but he’d been contributing lately, averaging 11.4 points and shooting 43.2 percent from 3-point range while starting eight of Atlanta’s nine games this month. Antic, however, suffered what was believed to be a mild right ankle sprain when the Hawks played in London last week, and a follow up Thursday revealed a stress fracture that will keep him out two to four weeks.
Starting forward DeMarre Carroll also might be out Friday after exiting Wednesday’s 112-109 win at Orlando with a mild hamstring strain.
The Hawks blew all of a 19-point lead and trailed by six in the fourth quarter, but Paul Millsap had seven of his 24 points in the final 5:06 and also finished with six rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals to help rescue Atlanta.
"He does that every night, Do-It-All-Paul," point guard Jeff Teague said. "He can score the basketball, rebound, pass it, everything. He’s been the ultimate player for us this year, and he did it again tonight."
Millsap struggled in the first meeting with the Spurs, missing 14 of 20 shots despite finishing with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Al Horford was healthy for last month’s visit to San Antonio, but Kyle Korver missed that game with bruised ribs.