The San Antonio Spurs usually coast through most of the regular season before turning up the intensity for a playoff push.
That late surge has been delayed this season due to injuries to their “Big Three,” but that’s about to change.
For the first time in six weeks, the Spurs expect to have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the lineup together Friday night when they host the lowly Los Angeles Clippers, who haven’t won in San Antonio in seven years.
With a one-game lead over Houston in the Southwest, the Spurs (47-24) are seeking their second consecutive division title and seventh in nine years. Winning has typically come easy for San Antonio, which has four NBA titles in the last decade, but it’s been more of a challenge this season.
The Spurs have been plagued by injuries with Ginobili missing 32 games, Parker out for 10 and Duncan six.
“In San Antonio there are high expectations,” said Parker, who had 42 points in Wednesday’s 102-92 victory over Atlanta. “Nobody cares if Manu is out for 30 games and Timmy is in and out. They want to see us in the top and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Ginobili returned Wednesday after missing 19 games with a right ankle injury, but San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest Duncan the day after a 107-106 win over Golden State.
Duncan, who already sat out back-to-back games earlier this month to rest his knees, is expected to return against the Clippers (18-54). Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have not been in the lineup together since a 91-89 loss at Toronto on Feb. 11.
Parker carried the team offensively while Ginobili was out, and that was no different Wednesday.
Parker, who’s led the Spurs in scoring in 16 of the past 17 games, made 18 of 25 shots and all six of his free throws.
“This is one of the best games I’ve seen Tony play,” Ginobili said.
Ginobili finished with two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 13 minutes against the Hawks - his first game since scoring 32 versus the Raptors.
“I felt a little rusty and slow tonight,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to have a great game. I just wanted to get back into game action.”
San Antonio’s lineup being at full strength does not bode well for Los Angeles. The Spurs have won 11 straight over the Clippers since a 98-85 loss March 7, 2006, outscoring them by an average of 25.0 points in the last two.
The Spurs have also won 12 consecutive home games over Los Angeles since a 91-87 defeat Jan. 31, 2002, and 21 of the last 22 in San Antonio.
The Clippers have won three of their last 20 road games but are coming off Wednesday’s 140-135 overtime victory at New York that snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
Los Angeles trailed 44-28 after the first quarter but had little resistance from the Knicks the rest of the way. The Clippers finished with a season-high 64 points in the paint and connected on 10 of 19 from 3-point range.
Seldom-used Mike Taylor led the Clippers with 35 points, more than doubling his previous career high (15). The rookie made 14 of 20 shots and was so effective that coach Mike Dunleavy stayed with him over the struggling Baron Davis to open the second half.
“It finally all came together, especially with the team being down big in the first quarter,” Taylor said. “That’s kind of my chance to pick it up and bring the energy that I’ve been bringing all year.”
Los Angeles, which snapped a three-game skid Wednesday, has not won back-to-back games since Feb. 23 and 25.