Spurs-Rockets Preview

With Tony Parker back, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be in

much better shape as they continue their quest for the top seed in

the Western Conference.

Parker has also been a big reason why the Spurs have an

opportunity to wrap up their first four-game season sweep of the

Houston Rockets since 2005-06 on Sunday night.

Following his eight-game absence because of a sprained left

ankle, Parker finished with 22 points – including six in overtime –

to lead the Spurs to a 104-97 victory over Utah on Friday.

Parker was averaging 27.0 points on 53.4 percent and 7.9 assists

in eight games prior to his injury against the Kings on March

1.

“The game got tight at the end in regulation and then in

overtime, and he was Tony Parker,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “Like

I said, up until the time he got hurt, there wasn’t a point guard

in the league playing better than Tony Parker.”

The Spurs (53-16) are trying to hold off Oklahoma City for the

top spot in the West and begin a challenging portion of their

schedule on Sunday with five straight games against teams with

winning records.

Parker should be able to get the Spurs off to strong start as he

looks to carry them to a fifth straight win against the Rockets. He

recorded his first career triple-double with 27 points, 12 assists

and 12 rebounds in a 134-126 overtime victory in Houston on Dec. 10

and had 31 points and 10 assists in a 122-116 home win on Dec.

28.

Parker also led the way with 17 points and seven assists in a

114-92 victory in San Antonio on Dec. 7.

Tim Duncan is playing like his old self heading into this

contest, averaging 25.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in his last

four.

The Spurs have scored 123.3 per game – 18.9 above their season

average – and shot 54.7 percent from the field in the three

wins.

Houston, though, has been playing better defensively over its

season-long seven-game homestand. While the Rockets have allowed

102.4 points per game at home on the season, they’ve given up just

92.0 over their last five at the Toyota Center.

Houston claimed its 10th win in 12 home games with a 116-78

victory over Cleveland on Friday. The Rockets held the Cavaliers to

53 points over the final three quarters and 36.0 percent shooting

for the game.

Harden led the way with 20 points, Thomas Robinson had 15 off

the bench and Omer Asik added 13 and 11 rebounds for the Rockets,

who shot 57.1 percent.

“That was a big win for us, and now we’ve got an even bigger one

coming up Sunday,” said forward Chandler Parsons, who also added

13 points.

Houston (38-31), which is battling Golden State for the sixth

seed in the West, opens a difficult stretch of its own with the

Spurs, Indiana, Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers in its next

four games.

While Harden missed the meeting in Houston with a sprained right

ankle, he’s totaled 62 points on 20-of-38 shooting in his two games

against the Spurs.

Jeremy Lin stepped up in Harden’s absence and matched his career

high with 38 points in that December loss, but will have to bounce

back after tying his season low with four points on Friday.

The Rockets have averaged 111.3 points against the Spurs and a

league-best 110.1 on their home floor this season.