76ers-Spurs Preview

The Associated Press

The San Antonio Spurs have had to shuffle their lineup during the first two games of a back-to-back-to-back stretch, but they continue finding players to step up.

The Spurs will try to win their fourth straight and continue their home dominance against the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

San Antonio has won six of seven to pull within three games of Oklahoma City for the Western Conference lead.

After cruising to a 104-87 win over Dallas on Friday, the Spurs (32-14) had to hold on for an 89-86 win at conference-worst New Orleans on Saturday, shooting 40.0 percent while going 2 for 19 from 3-point range.

Tony Parker returned after missing the previous game with tightness in his hamstring but Manu Ginobili, who started in place of Parker on Friday, did not make the trip while he recovers from a hip problem.

Gary Neal (foot) and Tiago Splitter (back) both missed the game as well.

With San Antonio short-handed, DeJuan Blair, who averaged 6.0 points the previous three games, stepped up and finished with 23 points, while Tim Duncan had 13 points, including a key basket and two free throws down the stretch. He also had seven boards and three blocks.

"I thought that they hung in there," coach Gregg Popovich said. "I thought New Orleans was more efficient than we were and executed better than we did. So we just had to hang in there and keep plugging."

Prior to the victory, Popovich said he may rest Duncan for this game.

While the Spurs struggled against one of the NBA's worst teams, they'll face another playoff contender in Philadelphia. However, San Antonio is 23-1 at home against the 76ers since the start of the 1986-87 season, winning the last seven.

Philadelphia (27-21) is trying to strengthen its hold on the Atlantic Division. The 76ers have won two of three since a three-game losing streak, defeating Boston 99-86 on Friday to increase their lead to 1 1/2 games over the second-place Celtics.

Elton Brand scored 20 points, Louis Williams had 19 and Philadelphia played good defense, scoring 20 points off 13 Boston turnovers while outrebounding the Celtics 46-35.

Brand scored 14 of his points in the third quarter, making 7 of 10 shots while the Sixers outscored the Celtics 37-17. While a balanced offense has meant Brand's scoring average has dipped to a career-low 10.6 points this season, he showed he can still take over a game.

"When we were winning, they didn't need a lot," early this season, Brand, whose season high is 21 points, said. "I said, when they need me, I'd be prepared. That was a game like tonight. They needed me to step up and I did."

While the 76ers are leading the division, they haven't fared well against other playoff contenders. Before defeating the Celtics, their previous four losses were against New York, Chicago, Miami and Indiana.

"To me, we've been playing playoff games for six weeks," said coach Doug Collins, who earned his 400th win Friday. "Whether it's at home or on the road. We've had an incredibly difficult schedule."

The 76ers will look to end their losing streak at the AT&T Center, although San Antonio won 100-90 in Philadelphia on Feb. 8. Parker, who finished with 12 points and 10 assists Saturday, scored 37 points in the victory versus the 76ers.

Philadelphia's last win in San Antonio was in 2004.

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