With the way they started the season, it looked like the San Antonio Spurs might be out of the playoff picture by the All-Star break.
Instead, they’re about to head into it looking more like a title contender.
In their final game before the break, the Southwest Division-leading Spurs go for their 11th win in 13 games on Wednesday night when they visit the Toronto Raptors, who are coming off their first victory in two weeks.
San Antonio (35-15) lost its first three games this season en route to a 2-5 start, but this veteran group led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has steadily improved as the season has progressed.
After defeating Boston 105-99 on Sunday, the Spurs topped New Jersey 108-93 on Tuesday. San Antonio’s offense has come on strong lately, as it’s averaging 106.4 points on 48.9 percent shooting in its last seven games, up from 90.5 points on 40.9 percent shooting in its previous six.
That boost has come from an unlikely source—Matt Bonner has suddenly given Gregg Popovich’s team another scoring option.
On Tuesday, Bonner had 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Bonner, who played his first two NBA seasons with Toronto before being traded to the Spurs in June 2006, has totaled 45 points in his last two games after averaging 7.0 points in his previous nine.
“Matty has been playing great,” Duncan said. “He is on a great shooting streak.”
Bonner, who leads the league in 3-point percentage (50.0), also has been the beneficiary of teams doubling Duncan inside. An 11-time All Star, Duncan led San Antonio with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Nets.
“It makes us tough to guard,” said Bonner, who was 4-of-7 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points in San Antonio’s 107-97 win over Toronto (20-34) on Dec. 20. “If they double Timmy on the post, they have to deal with guys who can step up and make open shots.”
The Spurs, who made a season-high 16 3-pointers in that victory, have won 11 of the last 13 meetings overall and five of the last six in Toronto.
Duncan had 19 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots versus Toronto earlier this season, while Parker had 24 points, 10 assists and eight boards.
The Raptors will likely again have trouble guarding Duncan on Tuesday, as four-time All-Star Chris Bosh will miss his fourth consecutive game with a sprained right knee.
The Raptors are coming off a 110-102 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday, snapping a six-game skid and winning for just the fourth time in 17 games.
Toronto, which shot a season-low 29.5 percent in Saturday’s 78-70 loss at Memphis, made 53.1 percent of its shots on Tuesday as it won for the first time Jan. 28.
With Bosh sidelined, Raptors coach Jay Triano has given Jason Kapono the green light from the perimeter. The two-time defending 3-point contest champion scored 18 on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, against the Timberwolves.
“Jason’s looking to score a lot more right now,” Triano said. “He’s one of the best shooters in the NBA and he’s proven that the last couple of years at All-Star weekend.”