San Antonio (57-18) at Houston (39-36)

By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Senior Writer Friday, Apr 1, 2011 Tipoff: 8:30 pm EDT Fri Apr 1, 2011

Sitting three games out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot with seven to play, the Houston Rockets are entering desperation mode.

Even with the NBA’s best record, the San Antonio Spurs might be in the same boat.

With their grip on the West’s top seed seemingly slipping by the day, the reeling Spurs try to avoid their first six-game losing streak in 14 years Friday night and complete a four-game season sweep of the Rockets at the Toyota Center.

Just 10 days ago, San Antonio (57-18) was cruising toward home-court advantage throughout the playoffs while looking like a lock to surpass its franchise-record win total of 63, set in 2005-06.

Suddenly, it’s not even guaranteed to win the Southwest Division. The Spurs stumbled through four consecutive losses without Tim Duncan(notes) heading into Thursday’s visit from Boston, and the return of the two-time MVP wasn’t enough. Duncan had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Manu Ginobili(notes) also came back after missing a game, but San Antonio shot 43.3 percent in a 107-97 loss.

The skid is San Antonio’s longest since Duncan’s been in the league. It hasn’t dropped that many consecutive games since its last six before his arrival, April 10-20, 1997.

“Of course we want to be No. 1. We don’t want to give it way just because we like being underdogs,” Ginobili said. “We want to win it. We put ourselves in an unbelievable situation.”

The Spurs still lead the division by four games over Dallas, but the Lakers have closed to within 2 1/2 games - two in the loss column - for the West’s top seed.

Facing the Rockets (39-36) could help San Antonio get back on track. The Spurs have averaged 115.7 points in winning all three games this season.

Ginobili (23.0 points per game) and Tony Parker(notes) (19.7) have led the way, but Houston also hasn’t had an answer for Richard Jefferson(notes). San Antonio’s starting small forward has averaged 16.7 points and made 18 of his 26 shots (69.2 percent).

As much as the Spurs depend on Ginobili, Parker and Duncan to be successful, Jefferson’s been just about as valuable. San Antonio is 17-1 when Jefferson scores at least 15 points.

The Rockets play five of their final seven games at home, and they’ll need all the advantages they can find with Memphis holding a three-game lead for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.

The Toyota Center has been good to Houston lately. It’s won five straight there since a 115-107 loss to the Spurs on March 12, but couldn’t make up ground on the Grizzlies during a three-game road trip. The Rockets lost two of three, falling 108-97 Wednesday at Philadelphia while shooting just 41.0 percent.

“We’ve got to win every game from here on out, it’s as simple as that,” guard Kyle Lowry(notes) said. “It’s pretty much do-or-die right now.”

Lowry’s certainly doing his part, even while battling a sore left foot. Houston’s point guard averaged 19.8 points and 8.1 assists in March, easily the best month of his five-year career.

The Rockets are 17-1 at home when they allow 102 points or fewer, and 5-13 when they surrender 103 or more.

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Friday, Apr 1