The San Antonio Spurs returned from the All-Star break with a pair of impressive road wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers on back-to-back nights.
The Spurs now try to win a fourth straight game without Tony Parker while closing out a season-high nine-game road stretch Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, another Western Conference playoff contender that's returned from the break on a high note.
While the Spurs (40-15) have won six of the first eight on their annual rodeo road trip, there's been more to it than simply a range of victories spanning the country.
The emergence of reserve Patty Mills might be the most encouraging aspect, and it continued Wednesday as the fifth-year guard scored 29 points in a 111-109 win against Portland, his former team, with Parker and Tim Duncan sidelined.
Parker is out with Achilles, back, groin and calf ailments, while the 37-year-old Duncan got his typical rest during the second leg of a back-to-back.
"If it wasn't for him the last couple nights, we would have really struggled," San Antonio forward Danny Green said of Mills. "He's doing what Tony usually does, in taking over in that fourth quarter."
Mills scored 25 on Tuesday in Los Angeles, but his surge dates beyond just the previous two games. He's averaged 21.0 points over his last seven, including a season-high 32 on Feb. 8 at Charlotte, while never logging more than 29 minutes.
"For me, it's just been learning from great guys," Mills said. "We've got three future Hall of Famers and a great coach, so I've just sat back and learned."
Fellow guard Marco Belinelli added 20 points and was 4 of 6 from 3-point range, while Green and Manu Ginobili each had 16 against Portland. The hobbled Southwest Division leaders got a bit healthier with the return of Tiago Splitter, who added 15 points and six rebounds after a four-game absence due to a calf injury.
In addition to Parker, San Antonio remains without small forward Kawhi Leonard, who has missed 13 games with a broken bone in his right hand. He's resumed practicing, though, and is nearing a return.
The Spurs have won eight of nine against the Suns (32-21), including four straight on the road and both meetings this season. The most recent came without Parker, who sat out a 108-101 victory at Phoenix on Dec. 18 because of a bruised shin. Duncan had 17 points and 13 rebounds in that one, while Ginobili scored a game-high 24.
Channing Frye had 22 points in the loss to lead five Suns in double figures, which they bettered Thursday in a balanced 100-94 home win over Boston. The victory improved Phoenix to 2-0 since the break, both games also coming on back-to-back nights.
Markieff Morris scored 18, and Goran Dragic and Gerald Green added 17 apiece as six players reached at least 10.
"Coming off the back-to-back we were a little tired, a little exhausted," said Frye, who added 15 points and seven rebounds. "And I think we had some mental breakdowns, but other than that, I think we just battle and grind it out."
Gerald Green's solid night followed his career-high 36 points at Denver on Tuesday, and the 6-foot-8 guard is averaging 26.0 over his last four games.
The win over Boston was the third in the last four contests for Phoenix, which opened a nine-game stretch that features only one road game Feb. 26 at Utah. The Suns sit 3 1/2 games behind the Pacific Division-leading Clippers.
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