Duncan gets a chance to exorcise past struggles against Lakers
San Antonio Spurs' 11-game winning streak ended with Monday's 91-84 loss to the Utah Jazz, but extending the run was of little concern to Gregg Popovich.
After bowing out in a first-round series as the No. 1 seed in last season's playoffs, Popovich wants his veteran team fresh for a deep playoff run this spring. He has periodically given Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili some time off, and Monday all three rested, leaving a combined average of 46.8 points in street clothes.
The Spurs' top three players are expected to be back on the court when they face the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be missing their biggest star, Kobe Bryant.
San Antonio's recent loss to Utah, coupled with an Oklahoma City Thunder victory, dropped them one game back for first place in the Western Conference.
Maintaining good health, however, is the biggest priority for San Antonio, which enters Wednesday's contest tied with Cleveland for the fewest games played with 55.
Like the Spurs, the Lakers are also hoping to make the playoffs at full strength.
Bryant's health is obviously invaluable to Los Angeles, the NBA's leading scorer at 28.1 points, will miss his third straight game with a sore left shin.
Pau Gasol has stepped up his play in Bryant's absence, finishing with a season-high 30 points against the Suns and scoring 25 against the Hornets.
Andrew Bynum also helped the Lakers stay strong inside without their top play-maker, combining for 41 points in the last two.
"I'm one of the anchors -- when (Bryant) is not there, even more -- so I get a lot more involved in the offense," said Gasol, who averages 17.3 points.
For San Antonio, Parker is averaging 21.7 points on 59.4 percent shooting in his last nine games at the AT&T Center, and Duncan is averaging 12.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, while shooting 51.4 percent from the field in just 27 minutes per game in his last four outings.
However, Duncan will need all the help he can get against an imposing Lakers frontline.
Last season, the Spurs' big man struggled mightily in three games against the Lakers, averaging just 4.0 points on 19.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Nonetheless, coming off a much needed rest, Duncan hopes to have a good game, and be able to lead his team to victory against a Lakers team, that will be playing without their main offensive weapon.
The Spurs (40-15) close the season with 11 games in 16 days, including three against the Lakers (36-22), Los Angeles has only eight regular season games remaining on their schedule.