The Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs find themselves in a familiar position as the NBA season winds down. The Los Angeles Lakers, on the other hand, are getting used to the fact that they will likely miss the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.
The Spurs look to bolster their chances for a top seed in the Western Conference playoffs when they host the struggling Lakers.
The Spurs lost 102-84 to the surging Denver Nuggets on Friday, but still remain two games behind the Phoenix Suns for the top spot in the West, and the best overall record in the NBA. Tony Parker had 17 points and Manu Ginobili added 13 for San Antonio, which fell to 3-3 without All-Star power forward Tim Duncan.
Duncan, who injured his ankle March 20 at Detroit, is not expected back for at least two weeks. However, the Spurs, who had won three straight without him, are hoping he can play at least five regular season games before the playoffs begin.
San Antonio, which has lost five straight road games, has reached the playoffs seven straight seasons, winning championships in 1999 and 2003. Last season, the Spurs lost in six games in the conference semifinals to the Lakers, who eventually fell to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Either the Lakers or Spurs had won each of the previous five championships.
The Lakers last missed the postseason in 1993-94, when they failed to make the playoffs for the only time since 1976. They won three consecutive titles from 2000-2002 under coach Phil Jackson.
The Lakers are 6 1/2 games behind Memphis and Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 11 games remaining.
“We knew the situation we had ahead of ourselves,” said Kobe Bryant, one of the two holdovers, along with Devean George, from the three-peat team. “The thing that we couldn’t predict, though, was all the injuries and the coaching change and stuff like that.”
The Lakers lost 105-96 to the Timberwolves on Thursday. The defeat came two nights after Los Angeles snapped an eight-game losing streak—its longest since dropping 10 straight to end the ’93-94 campaign—with a 117-107 victory over New York.
“Our problem is on the defensive end,” said Bryant, whose team is 7-33 when the opposition scores 100 or more points. “We score enough points, it’s just stopping teams when we need to.”
Bryant had a team-high 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Los Angeles, which has dropped its first three meetings with San Antonio this season.
Lamar Odom, the team’s second-leading scorer, missed his sixth straight game with a strained left shoulder.