Plagued by injuries, the San Antonio Spurs have seen their lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference disappear over the last few weeks. With the Thunder's blowout victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the Spurs now find themselves in a tie for the top spot in the West.
San Antonio will look to reclaim sole possession of that top spot when they take on the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night at the AT&T Center. However, the Spurs will have to do so without Tony Parker, who will not play because of a sore neck. Parker has also been battling injuries to his leg and ankle, which was a big reason he was so ineffective in a 100-88 loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday.
Parker will take a seat on the bench next to Manu Ginobili, who is out with an injured hamstring. In a bit of good news for the Spurs, it looks like veteran Stephen Jackson will play despite an ankle injury. Jackson sat out the Thunder loss with the ankle issue.
Because of the health problems, the normally-well-oiled machine that is the Spurs' offense has broken down. On the season, San Antonio is fourth in the NBA in points per game at 103.5. But in the last seven games, the Spurs are putting up just 94.4 points per game and have gone 3-4.
If anything is working in the Spurs' favor, it's that they will be facing a Hawks team that has looked terrible in their last two outings and will be playing on the second of a back-to-back. Atlanta was handled rather easily by the suddenly resurgent Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, falling 101-90 at home. Devin Harris (foot) and John Jenkins (concussion) both missed the game, and although Jenkins will likely return on Saturday, Harris will be out once again.
Atlanta's last two losses have dropped them back to the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Chicago Bulls and two games behind the Brooklyn Nets. The Hawks likely do not have to worry about falling to No. 7, as they are 2½ games ahead of the Boston Celtics and the Celtics have been ravaged by injuries of late.
This will be the second meeting between the Hawks and Spurs this season, with San Antonio taking the first meeting 98-93 on Jan. 19 in Atlanta. Playing without Ginobili and Tim Duncan, Parker led the way with 23 points and 12 assists. Josh Smith had 21 points to lead the Hawks. Kyle Korver and Matt Bonner got in a little shooting duel as Korver notched 19 points and Bonner poured in 17 off the bench.
With Parker and Ginobili out this time around, Duncan will be called upon for plenty of production. He and Tiago Splitter must also bring it on the defensive end, otherwise Smith and Al Horford could have big nights. Whomever wins the frontcourt battle could be a big factor in deciding the outcome.
One other key battle to watch will be the three-point shooting. Both the Spurs and Hawks are near the top of the league in makes, attempts and percentage, so each team has the capability of getting hot from deep. Korver is currently second in the league in three-point percentage, and Danny Green is fifth.
Tip-off for Spurs and Hawks is set for 8:30 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest and SportSouth.