SAN ANTONIO — Don’t think for a minute that Tuesday’s battle between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies will be another routine game with both teams playing out the string.
Yes, the Spurs have clinched at least the NBA’s second-best record with six games to play but they still haven’t really solved Memphis, a squad that’s handed San Antonio two of its losses this season. Even when the Spurs beat the Grizzlies in a 97-90 slugfest on March 23 — it took all San Antonio had.
The kicker in this conversation is that if the playoffs began today, the Spurs and Grizzlies would square off in the first round. And it would be a battle.
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Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio’s erstwhile MVP candidate, has been the difference-maker for the Spurs the past two games, including a 109-103 win against Utah on Sunday in which he scored 19 of his 25 points in the third quarter, helping San Antonio build a 15-point lead that carried it to the finish line.
In Friday’s 100-95 win at Oklahoma City, Leonard scored 20 of his 28 in the second half, including 13 in the third quarter.
“I was just being patient, waiting for my opportunity,” Leonard said. “We are just trying to build right now. You’ve got to keep getting better and better these last six games.”
San Antonio’s win over Utah was its 30th at home this season and allowed it to remain 3 1/2 games behind Golden State in the race for the Western Conference’s, and the NBA’s, best record. Tony Parker had 21 points and five assists for the Spurs, and five of the team’s nine-player rotation scored in double figures.
At 59-17, the Spurs have already matched the second-best record in franchise history through 76 games and have the league’s best record since the All-Star break at 16-4.
Sunday’s win was achieved despite resting Manu Ginobili, David Lee and Patty Mills, and missing injured starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green. Aldridge has a sprained left thumb and Green sat out with a bruised left quadriceps.
Ginobili’s absence and the injuries to Green and Aldridge were announced on Saturday, but the Spurs did not release anything about Lee and Mills before the game.
“Somebody told me David got whacked in the last game a little bit, and if we needed him, he’d play,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I decided I’d rather have him healthy for the playoffs. I thought it was good experience for (rookie guard) Bryn (Forbes) rather than overplaying Patty.”
Green (left quad contusion) and Dejounte Murray (left groin) have both been ruled out for Tuesday’s game.
Memphis heads to the Alamo City on the heels of a 108-103 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, which snapped a two-game win streak for the Grizzlies.
Mike Conley posted 20 points and tied a season high with 12 assists to go along with zero turnovers, but the Grizzlies suffered a fifth consecutive road loss against the Lakers to start their final road trip of the season. Conley recorded 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and became the first player to record multiple games with at least 20 points and 10 assists without turning the ball over.
The Grizzlies failed to take advantage of Oklahoma City’s loss to Charlotte Hornets earlier on Sunday and remained 1 1/2 games behind the Thunder for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
Memphis committed just eight turnovers in the first three quarters but had six giveaways in the fourth quarter against the Lakers.
“(Turnovers) killed us,” Memphis coach David Fizdale said. “That’s the game right there. We fouled while they were already in the bonus and put them up to the line too many times. We had opportunities; we just didn’t take care of business.”
The Grizzlies played without Marc Gasol (left foot strain), Vince Carter (rest), JaMychal Green (left shoulder soreness) and Andrew Harrison (right ankle injury). Fizdale gave playing time to eight players and Memphis eventually wore down.
“We’re a team that’s resilient,” Conley said. “Regardless of what the score is we’re going to find our way back into the game. We made some plays, but unfortunately, we put ourselves in that position to be down. That’s the frustrating part. You win a handful of those games that you come back, down six with a minute left and stuff like that, but we don’t want to be there.