Lakers-Spurs Preview

The Associated Press

The San Antonio Spurs managed to extend their lengthy win streak and keep sole possession of the Western Conference lead by getting past a pair of playoff-contending teams in their past two games.

With a number of sub-.500 opponents coming up on their schedule, the Spurs appear to have a good chance to pad their lead and add to their current eight-game run. That stretch begins with Friday night's visit from the beleaguered Los Angeles Lakers.

San Antonio (48-16) won 104-96 at Chicago on Tuesday and 103-90 over Portland the next night to open a three-game homestand. The Spurs' eight consecutive wins - five against teams currently in playoff position - have helped keep the Spurs one-half game in front of Oklahoma City in the West.

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They've also won a season high-tying seven in a row at home.

"We're getting a rhythm," point guard Tony Parker said. "You don't want to peak too early, but we're playing good basketball. Hopefully we can keep it going and stay healthy. The most important, like everybody knows, is the playoffs."

San Antonio will try to stay in position for home court throughout the playoffs by taking advantage of a soft patch in its schedule. The Spurs play eight of their next nine games against teams with losing records, and only a visit to Golden State on March 22 keeps that from being nine in a row.

San Antonio will try to kick off that stretch by adding to their recent dominance over the Lakers (22-43). The Spurs have won five in a row against Los Angeles, including a sweep in last year's playoffs, and nine of the last 10 meetings.

Parker scored 24 points and Manu Ginobili provided 20 while helping San Antonio take the most recent matchup 91-85 despite Tim Duncan's absence due to a bruised chest.

The Spurs have won the last four home contests in the series, including the postseason, and are hosting the Lakers for the first time since a 102-91 victory in Game 2 of the West quarterfinals April 24. Parker led the way with 28 points in that game and is averaging 23.8 in his last four matchups while shooting 57.4 percent.

San Antonio will face a largely different club in this victory. Los Angeles has been plagued by injuries all season, most notably Kobe Bryant's broken bone in his left knee.

Two-time MVP Steve Nash is also likely done for the season because of a nerve problem in his back. Jordan Hill and Nick Young are expected to sit out this two-game road trip because of ailing knees.

Bryant was officially shut down for the season Wednesday and took an opportunity to express some frustration with his storied franchise's miserable showing. The Lakers are tied for last in the West with Utah and were blown out 131-102 in Oklahoma City on Thursday for their 30th loss in 39 games.

Los Angeles beat the Thunder 114-110 at home Sunday before suffering its 16th defeat in 21 road contests. Jodie Meeks had a career-best 42 points in the victory but couldn't even reach half that total Thursday, finishing with 19.

"I think it's hard to play the same team twice back-to-back so that was a little difficult, but it is what it is," center Pau Gasol said. ''We can't make any excuses and we have to deal with it."

Los Angeles has allowed 129.8 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting in losing four of its last five, the most points allowed by any team in a five-game span since the Charlotte Hornets yielded 130.4 per contest from April 7-14, 1992.

The Lakers will face the Spurs again Wednesday night at the Staples Center.

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