The San Antonio Spurs have been inconsistent on defense lately, causing more than a few headaches for coach Gregg Popovich.
Having to defend Danny Granger produces headaches for many opposing coaches.
Coming off two stellar defensive efforts on the road, the Spurs will return home Tuesday to face the Indiana Pacers and Granger, who’s averaging more than 30 points per game over the last month.
San Antonio (27-13) has been a fixture atop the NBA’s defensive charts over the past decade, finishing among the league’s top three teams in fewest points allowed each season since 1996-97.
The Spurs are allowing 94.0 points per game midway through this season, still among the top 10 in the league but by far their worst average since they gave up 98.3 ppg 12 seasons ago - the year before Tim Duncan’s arrival.
They’d allowed an average of 108.3 points in losing two of their first three games last week, which included a 109-87 defeat at Philadelphia on Friday that left Popovich fuming.
“We’re supposed to be a pretty good defensive team and it hasn’t looked like it for a while,” Popovich said after the opener of San Antonio’s three-game road trip. “We’re not the team we’ve been in the past couple years on the defensive end. It’s really troubling.”
The Spurs played better defensively on Saturday in Chicago, beating the Bulls 92-87, then really stepped up Monday when the offense wasn’t clicking. San Antonio limited Charlotte to 36.3 percent shooting and held the Bobcats to 16 points in the fourth quarter, kick-starting a late rally to win 86-84.
“Maybe getting our butts kicked in Philly made them realize we did suck on defense,” Popovich said. “It’s got to be our focus because we’re going nowhere without defense.”
The Spurs have won four of their last six home games despite allowing 101.5 ppg in that stretch. San Antonio had allowed 100 points only twice in its first 16 games at the AT&T Center.
The Pacers (15-26), the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference thanks primarily to one of the league’s highest-scoring players, are sure to test the Spurs’ defense.
Granger’s 26.4 points per game rank fourth in the NBA, and he’s been even better over the last month. Since Dec. 17, Granger has averaged 30.6 ppg - the most of any player in the East during that span.
He had 30 on Monday at New Orleans, including a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to tie the score at 100. The Hornets’ Chris Paul, though, drained a 3 at the buzzer to give New Orleans a 103-100 victory and keep Indiana from a three-game winning streak.
“Our shooter made a 3 and their shooter hit one to counter,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “It was a great shot - both of them. What are you going to do? We lost a tough game tonight.”
Despite the loss, Indiana did get Marquis Daniels, who’s averaging 14.8 points, back from a strained left groin for the first time in two weeks. Daniels played only three minutes, but Monday marked the first time Daniels, T.J. Ford (14.1 ppg) and Mike Dunleavy (16.7) were all in the lineup this season.
While Popovich has been unhappy with San Antonio’s defense, the Pacers haven’t played much defense all season. They’re allowing 106.9 ppg, and have yielded an average of 115.1 points in their past nine games.
Indiana has lost six straight in San Antonio while averaging 89.5 points.