The San Antonio Spurs are a veteran team with a reputation for coasting through the first half of the season and using the second half as a springboard for playoff success.
That doesn’t bode well for the New York Knicks, whom the Spurs have dominated regardless of timing in recent years.
In both teams’ first game since the All-Star break, the Spurs look to continue their pursuit of another NBA title with their eighth straight win over the Knicks on Tuesday night when the clubs meet at Madison Square Garden.
San Antonio (35-16) has won three championships in the last six seasons in part because of momentum it’s built with strong second-half play.
Beginning with 2002-03, the Spurs have put together post-All Star break records of 27-6, 22-7, 18-11, 23-7, 23-6 and 22-9. Combined, they have a league-best second-half winning percentage of .746 in that stretch.
San Antonio has been especially effective immediately after All-Star weekend over the last three seasons. The Spurs came back from the 2006 break to win their first seven games, then opened the second half with 11 straight wins in 2007 and nine in a row last season.
San Antonio’s second-half dominance is bad news for New York (21-31), which has lost 10 of the teams’ last 11 meetings, including seven straight since an 88-75 home victory March 21, 2005.
The Knicks were outscored 54-39 in the second half, and 25-16 in the fourth quarter, of their 92-80 road loss to the Spurs on Nov. 11. Tim Duncan led five San Antonio players scoring in double figures with 23 points and added nine rebounds and seven assists while shooting 11-for-17 from the field.
As strong as the Spurs have been against the Knicks lately, they looked somewhat vulnerable Wednesday in their last game before All-Star weekend. They shot 41.9 percent in a 91-89 loss to a Toronto team that was playing without All-Star forward Chris Bosh and point guard Jose Calderon.
“We shouldn’t have lost this one,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s important to go into the break feeling good about yourself and on a good stretch. We were playing a team that isn’t doing so well and has two injured players, so we should have done much better.”
Ginobili scored 15 of his season high-tying 32 points in the fourth quarter, but the rest of the Spurs combined for only five points in the period and San Antonio blew an eight-point lead over the final seven minutes.
The Knicks also dropped their last game before the break, 128-124 in overtime to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. They’re allowing 120.7 points per game during their season high-tying six-game losing streak.
Knicks guard Nate Robinson, who had 33 points, 15 assists, nine rebounds and five steals against the Clippers, thinks the team is learning from its struggles under first-year coach Mike D’Antoni.
“We just have to take the good with the bad and keep pushing,” said Robinson, who won his second slam dunk contest over All-Star weekend.
“We’re getting better, but we lose now. It’s making us smarter and letting us learn from our mistakes and giving us more material to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to do to become a team that can put games together and get to the playoffs.”