The San Antonio Spurs blew their chance at the top seed in the Western Conference. Not having the best record in the West didn't seem to bother them too much a year ago, though.

The defending NBA champion Spurs look to bounce back from a tough loss and move closer to clinching home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs when they visit the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

San Antonio (54-26) lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 106-85 on Sunday, costing the Spurs a shot at the top seed and allowing the Lakers to take over of sole possession of first place in the West. The Spurs, however, managed to stay in third place as Houston lost to Denver 111-94 later on Sunday night.

While Utah has already clinched the Northwest Division and at least the fourth seed in the West, San Antonio is one game back of Southwest Division-leading New Orleans, which is second in the conference. The Spurs also have the same record as division rival Houston, but own the tiebreaker.

San Antonio can clinch at least third place in the West with a victory in this game coupled with a Rockets' loss in Utah on Monday.

The Spurs were the third seed in the West last season en route to winning their fourth championship in nine years.

On Sunday, the Spurs were outscored 53-32 in the second half and were outrebounded 51-36 in the game. San Antonio has lost three of its last five games after winning its previous eight.

"We haven't played well in about three, four, five games now," Tim Duncan said. "We've just have got to find a way to make some shots."

Manu Ginobili, who leads the Spurs in scoring at 19.6 points, missed his second straight game Sunday because of a strained left groin. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he's counting on Ginobili being available when the playoffs begin, but he's not sure about the final two regular-season games.

"We're better off to be a lower seed with a healthy Manu than a higher seed without a healthy Manu,'' Popovich said.

"Come playoff time, we'll have as good a chance as anybody to do well,''

Tony Parker had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead San Antonio on Sunday, but was held to two points after halftime. Parker, who has scored 20 points in each of his last three games, is averaging 15.3 points and 6.0 assists in three games versus Sacramento this season.

The Spurs have won two of three over the Kings (38-42) this season, but lost 112-99 at Sacramento on Nov. 26, snapping a four-game winning streak at Arco Arena.

The Kings are coming off a 94-91 victory over New Orleans on Saturday, knocking the Hornets out of the top spot in the West.

With Sacramento's playoff hopes long gone, the Kings would love nothing more than to mess up San Antonio's playoff seeding, too.

"We're mucking it up," coach Reggie Theus said. "You can't do anything but smile about it. We haven't given up. Our effort was phenomenal."

With leading scorer Kevin Martin out Saturday with a right knee injury and Brad Miller missing his fifth straight game with leg and elbow injuries, Ron Artest picked up the scoring slack.

Artest returned after missing three of four games with a sprained right thumb and hit four clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 22 points. He has 43 points and 13 rebounds in two games against the Spurs this season.

Martin, who is averaging 23.7 points, is listed as questionable for this game.

The Kings have won six of their last eight games, and eight of their last 10 at Arco Arena.


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