Phoenix begins its final five-game stretch of the regular season Wednesday night against the Spurs, who are looking to win five straight for the first time since the first week of the year.
Looking to extend their season-high winning streak to 11, the Suns (50-27) fell 107-98 to Milwaukee on Saturday—their first defeat since March 12.
“It makes us 10-1 in our last 11,” said coach Alvin Gentry. “It’s a tough game to lose, especially the way we’re fighting for position in the Western Conference, but (the Bucks) played great.”
In a third-place tie with Denver and Dallas and one-half game behind Utah in the West standings, Gentry’s team will likely have to play at a high level if they’re going to earn a top-4 seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Following San Antonio, the Suns close out the season against Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver and Utah.
The Spurs (48-29), meanwhile, still have games at Phoenix, Denver and Dallas, but with four straight wins, the two-time defending Southwest Division champs are playing with plenty of confidence down the stretch while moving into a sixth-place tie with Oklahoma City.
A victory over Phoenix would give San Antonio its first five-game winning streak since Dec. 26-Jan. 2.
The play of Manu Ginobili(notes) has been instrumental in the Spurs winning 16 of 21 and moving within two games of the division-leading Mavericks. Ginobili shot just 5 of 13 on Tuesday, but scored 11 of his 16 in the fourth quarter of a 95-86 victory in Sacramento.
“I’m feeling really confident right now,” said Ginobili, averaging 24.9 points in his last 16 games. “I couldn’t make shots for three quarters, but I know the team trusts me. They ran some plays for me and I took some big shots and they went in.”
“I thought Garrett was fantastic tonight,” Popovich said after the undrafted rookie from LSU had season highs with 15 points and four assists in his first career start. “It’s really impressive to see a young guy go out there and be that aggressive and not worry about making mistakes.”
Nash, the league leader with 11.0 assists per game, had 25 points and 13 assists in San Antonio’s last visit to US Airways Center - a 116-104 Phoenix win on Dec. 15.
Nash recorded his fourth straight double-double against the Spurs on Feb. 28 with 18 points and 11 assists, but the visiting Suns fell 113-110 after Jason Richardson(notes) missed a breakaway, game-tying dunk with 41.8 seconds left.
The matchup between Tim Duncan(notes) and Amare Stoudemire could be critical in deciding which team wins the season series. Duncan is scoring 23.4 points per game with 14.2 rebounds while posting five straight double-doubles against Phoenix, and Stoudemire has been nearly unstoppable against San Antonio this season, averaging 34.5 points and 13.0 rebounds.
San Antonio has won four of five against Phoenix.