Uncharacteristic performances have the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets both on the brink of skids they have yet to endure this season.
San Antonio will try to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time Tuesday night when it visits Houston, which will be looking to avoid its first three-game slide.
The Spurs (33-11) and Rockets (29-17) own two of the Western Conference’s top five records, with first-place San Antonio holding a five-game lead over second-place Houston in the Southwest Division. However, the Spurs have dropped three of five, while the Rockets come off back-to-back losses to Memphis.
The Spurs had a six-game road winning streak snapped Sunday in a 113-101 loss to Miami. They trailed by as many as 29 points in their first meeting since Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The absences of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green – who both have hand injuries – as well as Tiago Splitter (shoulder) appear to be taking their toll on San Antonio’s defense. The trio ranks No. 1-3 among players in San Antonio’s regular rotation in terms of plus-minus per game, while Green and Leonard lead the club in steals.
The Spurs, who are a league-best 16-4 away from home, surrendered a season-worst 58.1 field goal percentage to the Heat. San Antonio was outscored 33-21 in the third quarter while being outrebounded 14-3.
"Everybody has injuries. You have to deal with them during the season," said Tony Parker, who had 11 points versus Miami and appeared to be OK after giving San Antonio another scare with a jammed finger. "Obviously, it’s hurting us but they’re going to come back. We just have to keep pushing and try to get better."
Houston took a 99-81 loss in Memphis on Saturday after suffering an 88-87 home setback on Friday. The Rockets, who are one of the league’s best shooting teams at 47.0 percent, shot 38.8 percent over the home-and-home, including a 9-for-32 3-point performance Saturday. They were 14 of 34 from beyond the arc Friday.
"The last two games we’ve been terrible offensively," said Chandler Parsons, who was 5 of 16 from the field and 1 of 6 from 3-point range after hitting 10 of 14 3-point attempts Friday.
James Harden, who averaged 24.3 points prior to the last two contests, totaled 26 points in the two games on 8-of-24 shooting.
Facing the Spurs could help him get back on track, considering he’s averaging 30.0 points in five games against them since joining the Rockets prior to 2012-13. He’s shooting 60.9 percent from 3-point range in those contests.
Harden totaled 59 points in two wins earlier this season, including a 112-106 road victory on Nov. 30 snapping a seven-game skid in San Antonio. The Rockets also claimed a 111-98 win there on Dec. 25.
Houston hit 25 of 54 (46.3 percent) of its 3-point attempts in two meetings, with Parsons going 9 of 17 with 46 points.
"It’s going to be a tough game,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "The first two games don’t make any difference. We’re a different team. They’re a different team. We’ve got to play really well. That team lost to Miami, they’re going to come in hungry.”
Parker was just 3 of 11 in the second matchup with six points, while Tim Duncan had 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
A win would see San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich move ahead of Red Auerbach for sole possession of 10th all-time in career coaching victories.