San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich thinks his team is peaking at just the right time with the postseason approaching. Orlando’s Brian Hill better start seeing some improvement from his own squad or it won’t even be in the playoffs.
The Spurs look to extend their best stretch of the season on Friday when they host a slumping Magic squad trying to remain in the postseason picture.
San Antonio (39-18) has rattled off a season-high six straight wins and owns the third-best record in the Western Conference. The Spurs are averaging 100.7 points during their winning streak while holding opponents to 83.5.
They have shot over 50 percent in four of those victories, including Monday, when they hit 53.2 percent (42-of-79) to beat the Toronto Raptors 107-91.
Popovich has been more impressed with the play at the other end of the floor, though, as his team is holding opponents to 40.4 percent shooting during the run.
“I was really pleased with our team defense. It set us up for a win tonight,” Popovich said. “We’re beginning to turn the corner and get that focus we need come playoff time.”
San Antonio leading scorer Tim Duncan certainly regained his focus, recording 24 points and 16 rebounds after being held to a season-low six points two nights earlier against Seattle. The All-Star forward is averaging 25.1 points on 55.8 percent shooting in 18 career games versus the Magic—both his best marks against any opponent.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker added 27 points—eight more than this season average—to go with his nine assists and five rebounds Monday.
Parker will try for another strong performance as San Antonio concludes a three-game homestand. The Spurs have won four straight home games after splitting their previous 10.
“We’ve lost some really bad ones here,” Duncan said. “And we just want to re-establish the fact that we need to be a good home team and this needs to be somewhere where people come in here and know they are going to lose games.”
The Spurs have won 15 of 18 all-time home meetings with the Magic (28-31), but have dropped three of the last four overall matchups. Orlando shot 54.5 percent from the floor and got 30-point performances from Jameer Nelson (31) and Dwight Howard (30) in a 106-104 win over San Antonio on Feb. 9.
Howard hit 11 of 14 shots, including the game-winner with 0.2 seconds left when he leaped high over Duncan to grab a long inbounds pass from Hedo Turkoglu with one hand and dunk it.
However, that is one of only six victories for the Magic in their past 23 games.
They lost for the fifth time in six games on Wednesday, falling 111-101 to the Denver Nuggets despite another strong showing from Howard. The All-Star forward had 23 points and 12 rebounds for his career high-tying eighth straight double-double and 42nd of the season.
The Magic hit 9-of-15 from 3-point range, but couldn’t overcome their 25 turnovers, which led to 32 Denver points.
“Almost a third of their points came off our turnovers,” Hill. “You can’t do it and win. We had no gas in the tank. We were a step behind on everything.”
The Magic are a half-game behind the New Jersey Nets, who hold the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando is playing the third in a tough four-game road trip, which concludes in Dallas on Saturday, and has dropped 15 of its last 18 away from home.
The Magic may be without Grant Hill, who didn’t play the second half Wednesday due to a sore left foot and limped to the bus after the game. They could get forward Tony Battie back as early as this weekend, though, after he missed the last 10 contests with a fractured right thumb.