Even a veteran team like the San Antonio Spurs can be mentally affected by a string of close games featuring several narrow losses. A visit from the Orlando Magic ought to ease the Spurs' minds.
After another late setback, the Spurs look to avoid their first three-game losing streak in two years and strengthen their tenuous hold on first place in the Western Conference as they host the struggling Magic on Wednesday night.
Five straight Spurs games have been decided by two points or fewer, with San Antonio (55-19) losing three of them. Prior to that stretch, the Spurs had gone 4-0 in games decided by two points or fewer this season.
After giving up a layup with 0.6 seconds left in a 92-90 loss at Memphis on Monday, the Spurs weren't sure what to make of their recent penchant for the dramatic.
"It's good if we're learning from it, and we're going to use it to be smarter come playoff time," forward Stephen Jackson said. "But, if we're not learning from it, no. Hopefully, we'll take all these experiences as we get ready to play postseason."
Game-winners against the Spurs by Houston and Miami over the last 11 days came with 4.5 seconds and 1.9 seconds left, respectively.
The close defeats have had consequences, as Oklahoma City has won four of five to cut San Antonio's lead for the best record in the West to one game. Each team has eight games remaining.
Getting healthy might help San Antonio get back on track. The Spurs played without three of their top four scorers Monday. Manu Ginobili is out for weeks with a strained hamstring, and Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard skipped the trip to Memphis to rest sore knees. Duncan and Leonard could be available Wednesday.
The Spurs, who haven't lost three in a row since a six-game skid March 23-April 1, 2011, have to like their chances of bouncing back against the Magic. They have won five of six in the series with those wins coming by an average of 11.0 points. San Antonio cruised to a 110-89 victory in Orlando on Nov. 28 as seven Spurs scored at least nine points.
San Antonio is 32-5 at home and 23-5 against the East.
Orlando (19-56) has dropped 10 of 11, falling 111-103 at Houston on Monday. The Magic rallied from 25 down to pull within five late in the fourth quarter before losing their eighth straight on the road.
"These guys don't quit," said rookie forward Maurice Harkless, who scored a season-high 28 points. "No one on this team quits."
Magic point guard Jameer Nelson has missed consecutive games with a sprained right ankle, and it is unclear if he will return Wednesday. In two starts in Nelson's place, former Spurs first-round draft pick Beno Udrih has averaged 18.5 points and 9.0 assists.
San Antonio guard Tony Parker has averaged 23.5 points and 8.0 assists while shooting 56.2 percent from the field in his last six games against Orlando.