Spurs-Suns Preview

The Associated Press

Despite the absences of some of their best players, the San Antonio Spurs didn't miss a beat during their first back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season.

A difficult back-to-back road set, however, lies immediately ahead.

Playing for the fourth time in five days, the Southwest Division-leading Spurs try to extend their winning streak to five Tuesday night against the red-hot Phoenix Suns.

One night after Tony Parker missed Friday's 104-87 win over Dallas due to injury, Manu Ginobili rested during an 89-86 win at New Orleans. San Antonio then played without a resting Tim Duncan as it concluded its grueling stretch with a 93-76 rout of Philadelphia on Sunday.

The Spurs (33-14) were also without Gary Neal for the last two games and Tiago Splitter for the last three. While Neal and Splitter are uncertain for Tuesday, Parker, Ginobili and Duncan should be available.

"They show a lot of toughness, a lot of character to do that three nights in a row with different combinations and different players playing on each night," coach Gregg Popovich said of his team. "What's really great is that they appreciate or are happy with the success of their teammates.

"Whoever's not playing isn't hoping something bad happens so he can get in the game or anything like. They really pull for each other."

Things aren't about to get any easier for San Antonio, which has won seven of eight - including four in a row by an average of 13.2 points. The Spurs have dropped three of four at US Airways Center and on Wednesday, visit a Sacramento team that defeated them at the AT&T Center on Jan. 20.

"We will play two tough teams," said DeJuan Blair, who's scored a combined 42 points in the last two games. "We just need to go out there and play Spurs basketball. We need to go out there and play tough."

While the Spurs have struggled a bit at Phoenix of late, they've taken four off five in the series overall, winning the most recent meeting 102-91 on Jan. 15.

The Suns (25-24), however, have posted the league's second-best record since the All-Star break at 11-4 and just closed out a four-game road trip with two straight wins. Phoenix beat Indiana 113-111 on Friday and blew out Cleveland 108-83 two days later.

"We owed it to ourselves to have a better performance," said point guard Steve Nash, who had 13 assists Sunday - four fewer than the Cavaliers. " ... We've clawed back into the playoff picture and we had to try and get one here."

Despite his lack of scoring, the 10th-place Suns continue to rely on Nash to lead the way. The eight-time All-Star, tops in the league with 11.2 assists per contest, is averaging 13.0 points - his lowest mark since scoring 8.6 per game in 1999-2000 with Dallas.

"I think the goal is for our team to be able to read and react to how people play," said Nash, who scored four points Sunday. "Some nights if they're making me a scorer, I have to be aggressive and score. Other nights when they're trying to get the ball out of my hands, we have to make them pay other ways."

Averaging 96.9 points on the season, Phoenix has scored 103.1 per game in going 10-2 in its last 12 at home. The two losses during that stretch have come by a combined five points.

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