Coming off another stifling defensive display, the San Antonio Spurs carry plenty of momentum into the new year.
The Spurs try to extend their season-high winning streak to seven Wednesday night as they open a two-game trek against the Milwaukee Bucks.
One night after cruising to a 111-86 win at Dallas, San Antonio (25-8) blew out Brooklyn 104-73 on New Year's Eve. Tony Parker scored 20 points to lead six players in double figures for the Spurs, who outscored the Nets 30-5 in the third quarter and allowed their fewest total points all season.
"We played great defense in the third quarter," Parker said. "We tried to make an effort defensively and coach (Gregg) Popovich has been talking a lot about that and it has been a huge improvement for us the last two games. Defense has been great and we are on the right track and we just have to keep it going."
Limiting foes to an average of 90.0 points during its run, San Antonio took advantage of an opportunity to rest most of its players Monday. Nobody played more than 26 minutes for a Spurs team in the midst of four games in five days.
"It was very important for us, especially since we have a long trip (Tuesday)," Manu Ginobili said. "We are going through a tough stretch but it is great to have a chance to sit most of the fourth."
The offense has also stepped up in the last six games, averaging 110.8 points on 53.7 percent shooting and 46.8 from 3-point range.
San Antonio has taken five of six from the Bucks (16-13) - including a 110-99 home win Dec. 5 behind 22 points apiece from Parker and Gary Neal. The Spurs, who visit New York on Thursday, have dropped four of seven at the Bradley Center, however, falling 106-103 during their last trip Jan. 10.
"It's gonna be two very tough games on the road," Parker said. "Milwaukee's playing well at home and New York, obviously, they're playing great at home. So it's gonna be two great tests for us and hopefully we don't party too hard (Monday night) and be ready for Milwaukee."
The Bucks finished December with a 6-2 home record after handily beating Brooklyn 108-93 last Wednesday and defending champion Miami 104-85 on Saturday. Milwaukee, though, came up short 96-94 at Detroit on Sunday in its final game of 2012.
Monta Ellis had 30 points and Ersan Ilyasova posted a season-high 24 off the bench, but Brandon Jennings was limited to nine - 8.6 fewer than his average - on 3-of-12 shooting. The Bucks were outscored 60-38 in the paint and outrebounded 47-33.
"It was more than a bad start, it was a bad 3 1/2 quarters," said coach Scott Skiles, whose team fell behind 13-0 to start the game. "They outplayed us except for maybe six to eight minutes the whole game."
The Bucks will likely need Jennings to come out with a more efficient effort if they hope to keep up Wednesday. Milwaukee is 3-10 when Jennings shoots under 36.1 percent compared to 13-3 when he tops that mark.
Jennings missed 10 of 15 shots and finished with 14 points against San Antonio last month. He's averaging 12.6 points - his second-lowest mark against any team - and shooting 33.3 percent in five matchups in this series.
While the Bucks are relatively healthy, the Spurs could be without Neal for a fifth straight game due to a strained right calf.
Stephen Jackson, who opened last season with Milwaukee before ultimately landing in San Antonio, has yet to face his former team. He missed the December game with a fractured right pinkie.
The Associated Press News Service
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