The Spurs and Hornets close out their season series Wednesday at New Orleans Arena in a game that could decide which team earns the No. 1 seed for the conference playoffs.
San Antonio (44-19) is trying to keep pace with the Lakers for the best record in the West, but the defending NBA champions are also trying to hold off Houston, Utah, New Orleans (42-20) and Phoenix for first place.
San Antonio avoided a third straight loss Monday with a 107-103 victory over Denver. Tim Duncan had 23 points and matched a season-high with 18 rebounds, while Manu Ginobili added 13 points and a career-high 14 assists.
The Spurs were coming off back-to-back road losses to the Nuggets and Suns.
“We’re trying to play harder for 48 minutes than anybody else, and against Phoenix we didn’t do that,” Duncan said. “To bounce back today and have learned from yesterday’s game is great for us.”
Duncan and the Spurs have taken two of three against the Hornets this season, including a victory in the first New Orleans meeting in November. San Antonio has a one-game lead over Houston and a 1 1/2-game advantage over the Hornets in the Southwest Division.
A win Wednesday would give the Spurs the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hornets, which could come into play in the crowded race for the top seed in the West.
The Spurs are 16-3 in their last 19, including a 98-89 home victory over the Hornets on Feb. 23 in the teams’ most recent matchup. San Antonio, though, plays six of its next eight games on the road, a stretch that includes games at Detroit, Dallas and Orlando and a home game against Boston.
“Everybody who we are playing over these next five to 10 games seems to be on a hot streak of some sort,” said Duncan, averaging 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds this season against New Orleans. “We gotta gear it back up again.”
The Hornets, looking to make the playoffs for the first time in four years, are also in the midst of a critical part of their schedule. They’re coming off a 106-96 loss to the Rockets on Saturday that snapped a three-game winning streak.
The game was the first of three in a row against teams with better records than the Hornets. New Orleans faces the Lakers at home Friday, Detroit on Sunday and Houston and Boston next week.
With the tough stretch coming up, New Orleans badly needs second-leading scorer David West back in the lineup. The forward was sidelined for a third straight game Saturday with a sprained left ankle. He’s listed as day-to-day.
The Hornets have won four straight at home and are 22-10 at New Orleans Arena this season, but they’ve dropped their last four home meetings with San Antonio and nine of the last 10.