Losing four of five games in an NBA season can happen to anyone. It just doesn't usually happen to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs will try to avoid losing five of six games for the first time since 1996-97 - the season before they drafted Tim Duncan - as they host the foundering Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
San Antonio (18-7) has lost four of five only once since January 2004, a stretch from Jan. 31-Feb.11 last season. But a game against the Clippers could be just what the Spurs need to snap out of their recent funk.
They've won 13 of their last 14 against Los Angeles and are 33-4 against them since drafting Duncan prior to the 1997-98 season, outscoring the Clippers by an average of 11.8 points.
The first three losses in San Antonio's slide weren't particularly surprising considering they came to the Warriors, Lakers and Suns - all of whom are at least four games above .500. But its 88-85 defeat at last-place Memphis on Wednesday was unexpected.
The Spurs trailed by as many as 23 before rallying late, but Rudy Gay hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer over Duncan to give the Grizzlies the win.
"I'm sure the fans loved the heck out of that, but the bottom line is that NBA games are 48 minutes and they played well for more of the 48 minutes than we did," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
In their first 20 games, the Spurs averaged 101.5 points and outscored their opponents by 9.0 points per game. In their five-games slump, they've scored just 92.6 points per game while allowing 95.4.
Injuries have certainly played a role in San Antonio's struggles. Duncan missed four games, including the first two losses in the team's slide, with a sore knee and sprained ankle. Point guard Tony Parker has missed the last four with a sprained ankle, though it appears he'll be available to face the Clippers.
While Duncan and Parker have been fighting injuries, Manu Ginobili has gone through a rough shooting stretch. He scored 37 points in consecutive wins against Dallas and Utah on Dec. 5 and Dec. 7, but has shot just 31.7 percent and averaged 15.2 points in his last five games.
Prior to that, the shooting guard was averaging 20.1 points.
The Clippers (9-16) have dropped three in a row and 12 of their last 15, and have had trouble finding consistent scoring. Their 93.4 points per game are the fewest in the Western Conference.
They scored 77 Tuesday in a loss to Toronto - the fifth time they'd been held below 80 - and struggled again offensively in a 102-89 loss at Dallas on Friday. Leading scorer Corey Maggette, who averages a team-high 20.3 points, was held to a season-low nine in the defeat.
"Offense has been a problem for us,'' center Chris Kaman said. "We don't move well, we don't execute well. Something is wrong and we've got to figure it out on our own.''
Despite the Clippers' struggles, Kaman has shined trying to fill the void created by the injured Elton Brand. He had 24 points and 19 rebounds against the Mavericks, his 11th consecutive double-double and 21st of the season, and is averaging 18.6 ppg and 14.2 rpg.
Kaman, who is averaging career highs of 18.6 points and 14.2 rebounds, has averaged 12.1 and 8.0, respectively, lifetime against San Antonio.
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