The San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker will return to action on Friday night after missing eight games with an ankle injury he suffered on March 1, and that is bad news for the Utah Jazz. They have fallen 1.5 games behind the Lakers in the Western Conference playoff race, having dropped seven of its last 10 games.
Before addressing Parker's return, it's important to explain why the Spurs have remained successful in his absence. In the eight games without Parker, Tim Duncan has posted 21.1 points on 57.7 percent shooting and 11.6 rebounds per game to help San Antonio go 6-2 and improve the best record in the West. Aside from the awesome offense and spectacular stats, Spurs blog Pounding the Rock believes Duncan should win Defensive Player of the Year:
The Spurs this season have the 3rd best defense in the league so far, according to defensive rating. Success at the team level is clearly there. Last season the Spurs ranked 11th in defensive rating. While there have been additions to the team that provide a boost to team defense, the biggest difference in individual performance so far comes from Duncan. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter's numbers have largely stayed the same but they are logging heavier minutes, which means they deserve some credit. But Duncan's numbers have gotten better across the board, to the point where the always impressive big man is putting up career figures for defensive rebound percentage and block percentage. The Spurs turnaround on defense is not solely the responsibility of Duncan but he certainly seems to be playing the biggest part in it.
Parker has been great this year as well. His 24.3 PER and 59.5 true shooting percentage through 56 games are both the highest marks in his career, and his traditional stats (21.0 points and 7.6 assists) are just as impressive. The Jazz caught an unlucky break by running into the Spurs when they seriously need a win. Even worse, the matchup will be held at the AT&T Center, where San Antonio is 29-4 this year. That's without factoring in the added pressure that a win by the Lakers against the Wizards on Friday night would bring.
Gordon Hayward recently moved into the starting lineup for the Jazz, and he has responded well. Over the last five games he scored 18.8 points on 49.2 percent shooting and 48.0 percent from three-point range to go with 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Utah will need a big game from their young guard if they hope to pull off an upset against the Spurs.
San Antonio is an 11.5-point favorite at home, and the over/under for the game is set at 199 points, according to Odds Shark. Tip time is 8:30 p.m. ET.