Going into the weekend, it looked like the short-handed San Antonio Spurs were going to have trouble staying afloat as their two star guards recover from ankle injuries.
Instead, they've won back-to-back games for the first time this season, and they'll have a good chance to make it three straight on Monday when they visit the lowly Los Angeles Clippers.
With their offense ailing along with banged-up veterans Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs were scuffling at 2-5 - despite a relatively soft schedule - entering Friday night's game against Houston.
But San Antonio turned in a strong defensive effort in a 77-75 win over the Rockets, then followed that up with a 90-88 road victory over Sacramento on Sunday, when they allowed just 16 points in the final period.
"We did a real good defensive job in the fourth quarter, and for us that's necessary," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We're not exactly a juggernaut on offense. We gave up 88 points, that's about as much as we can allow and still win."
Ginobili and Parker combined to average 38.3 points last season, but Ginobili hasn't played this season and Parker hasn't played since Nov. 7. Without either in the last four games, the Spurs have scored only 84.3 points per game, but have still won three of four, allowing an average of 81.3 points over that span.
Against the Kings, Michael Finley had 21 points, while Tim Duncan added 20 and 10 rebounds. Roger Mason, one of the key reinforcements in the Spurs' backcourt, also chipped in with 18 points, bouncing back after totaling just 15 in his previous two games.
"With guys like Manu and Tony out, we have to make fewer mistakes," Duncan said.
The Spurs (4-5) should have an ideal opportunity to reach .500 for the first time this season with the Clippers next on their schedule. They've won eight straight and 16 of 17 against Los Angeles, holding the Clippers to an average of 83.0 points in seven meetings the last two seasons.
The Clippers (1-8) aren't looking any better this fall, having dropped eight of nine to start the season despite playing eight of those nine games at Staples Center. After earning their lone victory last Sunday against Dallas, they've lost back-to-back home games to Sacramento and Golden State.
In Saturday's 121-103 loss to the Warriors, Los Angeles allowed 37 points on 15-of-20 shooting to Anthony Morrow, an undrafted rookie making his first NBA start for Golden State.
The Clippers, meanwhile, shot under 40 percent from the field for the fifth time this season. Still reeling after losing Elton Brand and Corey Maggette to free agency this summer, they rank 29th in the NBA in field goal percentage, making just 41.1 percent of their shots.
"We have a good team. We're just not as good as we need to be right now," center Chris Kaman said. "You want to start pointing fingers, but there is no one to point fingers at but yourself. Everybody needs to dig down and work harder. With this team, it's far from over."
After Monday's game, it isn't likely to get much easier for the Clippers, as they play three straight and 17 of their next 26 on the road.
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