San Antonio (57-15) at Memphis (40-33)

By KATE HEDLIN, STATS Writer Saturday, Mar 26, 2011 Tipoff: 6:00 pm EDT Sun Mar 27, 2011

While the San Antonio Spurs may not be finding it so difficult to duplicate Tim Duncan’s(notes) offensive contributions, his leadership appears to be sorely missed.

After blowing another fourth-quarter lead in their last game, the Spurs will try to avoid a season-high third straight loss Sunday when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies in a potential first-round playoff preview.

San Antonio (57-15) still has a five-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference, but it has to be concerned after wasting leads in the fourth quarter to lose back-to-back games for the second time this season.

The Spurs led by 10 in the fourth against Portland on Friday but lost 98-96, committing three of their 19 turnovers in the final 40 seconds.

“It was ridiculous,” said Manu Ginobili(notes), who had 21 points and seven assists but also five turnovers. “One of the craziest games I’ve ever lost in the NBA.”

The defeat came two nights after San Antonio had a seven-point lead in the fourth against Denver before losing 115-112.

Both losses have come since the Spurs lost Duncan indefinitely to a sprained left ankle he suffered against Golden State on Monday. He did not accompany the Spurs on this three-game road trip which ends Sunday.

Ginobili has helped make up offensively for Duncan’s absence, averaging 23.0 points the last three games. Tiago Splitter(notes) started in Duncan’s place again Friday and had 11 points and seven rebounds - not far off the All-Star forward’s averages - in 23 minutes.

With Duncan missing Sunday’s game, it will be the second straight visit to Memphis that the Spurs are making short-handed. Tony Parker(notes) sat out a 109-93 loss to the Grizzlies on March 1. San Antonio also struggled with turnovers in that game, committing 22.

The last time the Spurs lost consecutive games was Jan. 4 and 5, but they responded by winning their next eight. They haven’t dropped three in a row since Jan. 20-25, 2010.

San Antonio, which has won two of three against the Grizzlies, could face eighth-place Memphis (40-33) in the first round of the playoffs.

The Grizzlies had their three-game winning streak snapped by a 99-96 loss at Chicago on Friday. Mike Conley(notes) missed a 3-pointer as time expired.

Memphis had held its previous three opponents to an average of 83.3 points.

“This one definitely hurt, we have to claw and scratch to get into that eighth playoff spot,” said Tony Allen(notes), who scored all 13 of his points in the first half. “I liked our effort tonight but there are no moral victories.”

The loss came hours after the team learned Rudy Gay(notes), out since Feb. 15, will undergo season-ending surgery to repair his partially dislocated left shoulder. The Grizzlies are 9-7 since he got hurt.

While he’s totaled just 13 rebounds over the last two games, Zach Randolph(notes), averaging 12.4 rebounds, had 25 points and 20 boards in the win over the Spurs last month.

The Grizzlies, who play six of their next seven games at home, have a 1 1/2-game lead over ninth-place Houston.

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Sunday, Mar 27