San Antonio (41-26) at Atlanta (44-24)

  • Game info: 8:00 pm EDT Sun Mar 21, 2010
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The San Antonio Spurs’ last victory was impressive. A strong effort over the next five games would be even more so.

San Antonio opens a critical stretch Sunday night at Philips Arena, where it will go for its eighth straight victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Coming off Wednesday’s 26-point loss at Orlando, the Spurs (41-26) routed Golden State 147-116 on Friday in their highest-scoring game since a 161-153 victory over Denver on Nov. 7, 1990.

“The win is more important than the points,” guard George Hill(notes) said.

San Antonio, which has won nine of 11, is seventh in the Western Conference. Upcoming games against Atlanta (44-24), Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland and Boston could make it difficult for the Spurs to improve their position.

“The last 15 (games) are going to be really rough, so it’s good to get a good win,” guard Manu Ginobili(notes) said after scoring 23 points with a season-high 11 assists in 22 minutes Friday. “We have a really rough back-to-back now with Atlanta and Oklahoma City. Good teams, strong at home.”

A last-second shot by Joe Johnson(notes) helped the Hawks defeat Charlotte 93-92 in overtime Friday for their fifth straight home win. Atlanta, though, has dropped three in a row at Philips Arena against San Antonio.

Tony Parker(notes) had 42 points and 10 assists in the Spurs’ last visit to Atlanta - a 102-92 win March 25 - but the three-time All-Star could be out the rest of the season with a broken right hand.

Parker sprained his left ankle in a 105-90 home win over Atlanta on Jan. 27, when Tim Duncan(notes) carried San Antonio with 21 points, a career-high 27 rebounds and six assists.

Duncan should be well rested for this matchup after scoring 17 points in 14 minutes Friday.

“It’s always good to see (the bench) play and get them more experience, and of course it’s good to get Manu and Timmy some rest,” coach Gregg Popovich said.

Ginobili and Duncan might need to play more against a Hawks team trying to make a push up the East standings.

The continued strong play from Johnson could help Atlanta make that move. After missing two games with Achilles’ tendinitis, the four-time All-Star scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime Friday, hitting the winner with 0.1 seconds left.

“Joe is a pro,” said coach Mike Woodson, whose team has won four of five and is four games behind Southeast Division-leading Orlando. “He’s an All-Star. He’s capable of making shots when he needs to.”

Johnson had 31 points Jan. 27 and is averaging 30.0 in the last three games in this series.

Hawks forward Josh Smith(notes) had 14 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in the last meeting with the Spurs.

Atlanta’s last victory over San Antonio was 94-84 at home Dec. 10, 2005.

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Sunday, Mar 21