Thunder-Spurs Preview

The San Antonio Spurs have proved to be a dangerous team even if

their best players aren’t in the lineup.

They’re even better when at full strength, which is expected to

be the case when they try to end the visiting Oklahoma City

Thunder’s eight-game winning streak Saturday night in this showdown

between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference.

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker sat out, yet the Spurs

still found a way to win 104-102 at Golden State on Thursday.

Duncan and Ginobili were both given the night off to rest as San

Antonio (21-5) played its fifth game in seven nights, and Parker

was held out for the second straight contest because of a bruised

right shin. It’s a strategy coach Gregg Popovich used in the past

to much criticism – and a $250,000 fine from the league – though he

feels there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it.

”How smart do you have to be to rest guys that are older than

dirt?” Popovich said. ”Everybody has a different kind of team. I

know my team. We’ve been doing this for years. We’ve been saving

minutes for Timmy and Manu since the day they got here, and I think

it’s prolonged their careers.”

Parker will be re-evaluated before it’s determined if he’ll

return Saturday, but Duncan and Ginobili should be back against a

team that has given the Spurs problems of late. The Thunder have

won three of the last four meetings, including a 94-88 victory on

Nov. 27 despite Russell Westbrook going 2 of 16.

Backup Reggie Jackson tied a career high with 23 points, hitting

10 of 14 shots.

That game was in Oklahoma City, however, and the results have

been much different in San Antonio. The Spurs have won the last six

regular-season meetings at AT&T Center, holding Kevin Durant to

23.0 points per game and Westbrook to 18.5 on 35.8 percent

shooting.

They even won the latest at home without Parker, getting a

team-high 21 points and 10 boards from Tiago Splitter, whose tip-in

with 2.1 seconds left beat the Warriors on Thursday.

San Antonio also got 28 points from Marco Belinelli, 21 and 10

rebounds from Kawhi Leonard and 20 points from Patty Mills – all

season highs.

”Every guy stepped up,” Belinelli said.

Leonard has averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in his last

there games against Oklahoma City, though he’ll have his hands full

trying to defend Durant.

Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 28.7 points per game, but

he’s really stepped up his efficiency during the Thunder’s winning

streak. He’s shooting 57.8 percent – 58.6 from 3-point range –

after shooting 45.5 percent overall and 36.4 percent from beyond

the arc during Oklahoma City’s first 17 games.

The Thunder are sharing the ball better during the streak as

well. They’ve averaged 24.8 assists over the past eight games after

recording 20.6 per contest through Dec. 4.

Durant had six of Oklahoma City’s 26 assists and Westbrook 10 in

Thursday’s 107-95 win over Chicago.

“If we move the ball like that with the guys we have that create

for everybody, create for themselves, it makes it tough on other

teams,” Durant said.

The Thunder have enjoyed a big edge on the boards lately against

San Antonio, posting a plus-7.6 rebounding margin in the series’

last five games. Serge Ibaka has been the driving force inside,

averaging 16.5 points, 13.8 boards and 3.5 blocks in his last four

against the Spurs.