As badly as the San Antonio Spurs' homestand began - a loss to a woeful team followed by a major injury to a star player - it now appears to be going really well.
It wouldn't seem the road-troubled Portland Trail Blazers should get in the way Friday night before the Spurs - maybe even surprising themselves as owners of the league's best record - face the next-best team in the Western Conference.
San Antonio's six-game stretch at home started last Wednesday with a 105-101 overtime loss to a Phoenix team which entered with the West's worst record. Two nights later, All-Star point guard Tony Parker was lost for a month after spraining his ankle against Sacramento.
However, the Spurs won that game by 28 and have posted two more easy wins without him, defeating Detroit 114-75 on Sunday and using a dominant second half to beat Chicago 101-83 on Wednesday.
The Spurs (48-14) have maintained the best record in the NBA despite a bevy of injuries and Miami winning 16 in a row. Plus, their conference lead has grown a bit over Oklahoma City, which visits San Antonio on Monday night to end the homestand.
"We see Miami play and Oklahoma City, the amount of talent they have, the depth, they make crazy shots. And we look at the standings, and we're on top," said a seemingly amazed Manu Ginobili, who mentioned himself and Tim Duncan among the many lengthy absences San Antonio has endured.
"Tony's out now. Remarkable what we are accomplishing this season. But as we always say, no one remembers the No. 1 seed or No. 2 seed. We gotta keep going, keep improving."
San Antonio has outscored its last three opponents in the paint by 20.0 per game while the bench has averaged 52.7 points. That unit has been without Gary Neal (Achilles) in four of the past five games, but many others continue to step up.
Off the bench, Ginobili has totaled 35 points in the two games Parker has missed, and former Blazer Patty Mills has averaged 10.3 on 76.5 percent shooting over the last three. Duncan has posted a season-best four consecutive double-doubles, and Kawhi Leonard has scored at least 14 in five straight games.
"That's a championship team right there," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "They do all the little things."
San Antonio could be in for another big night offensively against Portland, giving up averages of 107.3 points and 50.3 percent shooting during a seven-game road losing streak. The Blazers (28-32) haven't had a longer one in a season since opening 0-9 away from home in 2007-08.
They began a three-game trip with a 91-85 defeat to Memphis on Wednesday following a 3-1 homestand. Portland is 3 1/2 games behind Utah for the West's eighth and final playoff spot.
"It is uphill, but we are still there, even with that loss," coach Terry Stotts told the league's official website. "We just have to roll some wins together. That will take care of itself, but we have to go into San Antonio and get a win there."
The Blazers haven't visited San Antonio since losing two trips last season by a combined 51 points. The teams have split two meetings in Portland this season.
Damian Lillard's 29 points keyed a 98-90 win over the Spurs on Dec. 13 in the last matchup. The Rookie of the Year candidate has scored at least 20 in four straight games.
LaMarcus Aldridge has averaged 25.3 points in his last four matchups with the Spurs, but he's averaged 10.3 and shot 23.3 percent in Portland's last three road games.
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