Spurs - Suns Preview
After securing the top seed in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs are already turning their attention to avoiding another first-round playoff exit.
The Phoenix Suns aren't getting that chance for a second straight season.
The Spurs may opt to begin preparing for the postseason by resting a number of players - including Tim Duncan - while trying to sweep the season series from the Suns on Wednesday night.
San Antonio (48-16) has already clinched the West's top seed for the playoffs for a second consecutive season, an unexpected achievement for a team considered to be aging with the likes of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
With two games left, coach Gregg Popovich can afford the luxury of resting his stars in an effort to avoid another early round playoff upset. The Spurs were stunned in six games by Memphis last season, becoming the fourth top seed to lose in the first round.
They're already wary of a similar fate.
"'It's great to be in that situation, but as we showed last year, someone can sneak up and take you out easily," said Duncan, who turns 36 on Wednesday. "Hopefully, we get a much better effort this year and do a much better job this year, and we stay away from those injuries.
"Obviously, we don't want to do to go into a game somebody get hurt from some silly play."
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been rested at various points during this condensed season, and Ginobili has dealt with various injuries that have limited him to 34 contests.
Still, they own the top three scoring averages on San Antonio, while Duncan grabs 9.0 rebounds per game with Parker dishing out 7.7 assists per contest.
Opting to rest the trio - or any combination of the three - could cost the Spurs a chance at the best record in the NBA, as they're tied with Chicago.
Duncan had 18 points and eight boards in Monday's 124-89 rout of Portland, clinching the West's No. 1 seed. Danny Green hit four 3-pointers and went 6 for 6 from the field to add 18 points.
The guard, averaging 9.2 points, may see an increase in playing time. He had three points in 12 minutes in a 105-91 win over Phoenix (33-32) on April 14.
Duncan had 19 points and 11 rebounds in that meeting, and is averaging 23.0 and 11.0, respectively, in three wins against the Suns this season.
San Antonio last swept the season series from Phoenix in 2003-04.
The Suns were officially eliminated from the race with Tuesday's 100-88 loss at Utah, relinquishing the final postseason spot to the Jazz.
"It's tough. We found a way to put ourselves in this position," guard Steve Nash said of missing the playoffs. "We started slow, no one gave us a chance when we were 12-19 and really didn't have any answers. It could have went the other way."
This could be Nash's final game with the Suns, as he's scheduled to become a free agent after the season.
"Phoenix feels like my team," he said. "It has the feel - and you don't always get it in professional sports - but it feels like a high school or college team. I spent so many years here and had so much success here. It's a special place for me, no question."
The two-time NBA MVP and eight-time All-Star is averaging 12.5 points and 10.8 assists. However, a hip injury limited him to six minutes in the defeat to the Spurs earlier this month.
Nash had 16 points and eight assists in a 107-100 home loss March 27.
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