Spurs-Suns Preview

Despite the absences of some of their best players, the San

Antonio Spurs didn’t miss a beat during their first

back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season.

A difficult back-to-back road set, however, lies immediately

ahead.

Playing for the fourth time in five days, the Southwest

Division-leading Spurs try to extend their winning streak to five

Tuesday night against the red-hot Phoenix Suns.

One night after Tony Parker missed Friday’s 104-87 win over

Dallas due to injury, Manu Ginobili rested during an 89-86 win at

New Orleans. San Antonio then played without a resting Tim Duncan

as it concluded its grueling stretch with a 93-76 rout of

Philadelphia on Sunday.

The Spurs (33-14) were also without Gary Neal for the last two

games and Tiago Splitter for the last three. While Neal and

Splitter are uncertain for Tuesday, Parker, Ginobili and Duncan

should be available.

“They show a lot of toughness, a lot of character to do that

three nights in a row with different combinations and different

players playing on each night,” coach Gregg Popovich said of his

team. “What’s really great is that they appreciate or are happy

with the success of their teammates.

“Whoever’s not playing isn’t hoping something bad happens so he

can get in the game or anything like. They really pull for each

other.”

Things aren’t about to get any easier for San Antonio, which has

won seven of eight – including four in a row by an average of 13.2

points. The Spurs have dropped three of four at US Airways Center

and on Wednesday, visit a Sacramento team that defeated them at the

AT&T Center on Jan. 20.

“We will play two tough teams,” said DeJuan Blair, who’s scored

a combined 42 points in the last two games. “We just need to go out

there and play Spurs basketball. We need to go out there and play

tough.”

While the Spurs have struggled a bit at Phoenix of late, they’ve

taken four off five in the series overall, winning the most recent

meeting 102-91 on Jan. 15.

The Suns (25-24), however, have posted the league’s second-best

record since the All-Star break at 11-4 and just closed out a

four-game road trip with two straight wins. Phoenix beat Indiana

113-111 on Friday and blew out Cleveland 108-83 two days later.

“We owed it to ourselves to have a better performance,” said

point guard Steve Nash, who had 13 assists Sunday – four fewer than

the Cavaliers. ” … We’ve clawed back into the playoff picture and

we had to try and get one here.”

Despite his lack of scoring, the 10th-place Suns continue to

rely on Nash to lead the way. The eight-time All-Star, tops in the

league with 11.2 assists per contest, is averaging 13.0 points –

his lowest mark since scoring 8.6 per game in 1999-2000 with

Dallas.

“I think the goal is for our team to be able to read and react

to how people play,” said Nash, who scored four points Sunday.

“Some nights if they’re making me a scorer, I have to be aggressive

and score. Other nights when they’re trying to get the ball out of

my hands, we have to make them pay other ways.”

Averaging 96.9 points on the season, Phoenix has scored 103.1

per game in going 10-2 in its last 12 at home. The two losses

during that stretch have come by a combined five points.