Spurs-Nets Preview

The Associated Press

The San Antonio Spurs were starting to play some of their best basketball of the season despite having one of their star players sidelined.

They figure to become all the more formidable with Manu Ginobili's much-anticipated return from injury.

Looking to extend its season-best winning streak to seven, San Antonio continues its nine-game road trip seeking a 17th win in 18 meetings with the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night.

The Spurs (18-9) seem to have hit their stride, winning six in a row while holding opponents to an average of 85.8 points. While San Antonio's recent defensive efforts have left little to be desired, Tony Parker has paced the offense with 28.4 points per game over his last five.

He had 37 points and eight assists in leading the Spurs to a 100-90 victory at Philadelphia on Wednesday, and San Antonio's bench accounted for 40 points as Gary Neal had 18 and Tiago Splitter 15.

Tim Duncan has also come up big late, averaging 17.7 points and 10.8 rebounds during the winning streak.

With Parker and Duncan leading the way, the Spurs have gone 15-7 without Ginobili. Having arguably its most potent offensive threat back on the court, however, makes the team more dangerous.

"I think the group has exceeded our expectations and mostly because Timmy's been so steady, Tony's played so well and the young kids, the bench guys, have outdone themselves," coach Greg Popovich said.

"When Manu's ready, you bring him back, so that made it easy. He's Manu and when he's ready to go, you don't care if you're winning, losing, it doesn't matter. He's coming back."

Ginobili scored at least 23 points in three of his first four games before fracturing the fifth metacarpal on his shooting hand during a 106-96 defeat at Minnesota on Jan. 2. It's unknown if Ginobili will immediately rejoin the starting lineup or come off the bench and ease his way back into the swing of things.

"I don't have great expectations for the first few games. I just want to contribute, help a little bit, don't change anything of what the team's doing, just try to fit in again," Ginobili said.

"I think at the beginning I'm not going to play 30 minutes (but) come back slowly. I mean I wasn't in great shape even before the surgery, so not going to be now."

San Antonio may not need a huge effort from Ginobili in order to keep things going versus the slumping Nets (8-20).

The Spurs have outscored New Jersey by an average of 12.1 points during their current dominance in this series. Their only loss during that stretch came 90-84 at the Prudential Center on March 29, 2010, when Ginobili was unavailable due to back spasms.

New Jersey is coming off its fifth straight loss, getting swept in a home-and-home series with Detroit after a 109-92 defeat Friday. Coach Avery Johnson's team was outrebounded 47-31 and allowed the Pistons to shoot a season-best 54.4 percent.

"We got off to a good start - we were up 7-0 - but they took control," Johnson said. "They were hitting on every cylinder, and we didn't execute on either end."

While not much as gone right for the Nets of late, rookie sensation MarShon Brooks returned from a six-game absence due to a broken toe Friday. Brooks, second on the team with 14.4 points per game, scored seven on 2-of-7 shooting.

Getting outscored by an average of 11.0 points during its current skid, New Jersey last lost six straight Dec. 27-Jan. 4.

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