With 16 games left in the NBA's regular season, the San Antonio Spurs have fought their way back to the top of the Western Conference and will jockey with Golden State for the best record in the league over the next month.
Don't expect San Antonio to become complacent or rest on its laurels -- the Spurs like to be pushed. So San Antonio should be on its game and trying to move forward when the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Alamo City for Wednesday's battle at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs (52-14) and Golden State are the only teams in the NBA to have already clinched a playoff berth. San Antonio expects to be challenged by Portland, a team that's playing for its postseason lives with every game down the stretch.
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"Portland is a team that's fighting to get into the playoffs and they will be playing very aggressively," San Antonio forward Pau Gasol said. "They have two guards that are very good with the ball and other players that are efficient and can hurt you in different ways. They are versatile, and we will have to get ready for them and play with the same intensity and focus we have had for the past few games."
San Antonio won 11 of its past 12 games and nine straight at home. The Spurs beat Atlanta 107-99 at home Monday as Kawhi Leonard returned in top form and scored 31 points after missing one game and one quarter while going through the league's concussion protocol.
The Spurs were anything but sharp in the win over Atlanta, committing a season-high 23 turnovers.
"All teams make mistakes -- nobody plays a perfect game," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "But overall, I was pleased with our defense, given the fact that we turned it over 23 times and still held Atlanta below 100 points. We continued to guard and hustle the way we did despite being sloppy with the ball."
The Spurs continue to play without forward LaMarcus Aldridge for the foreseeable future as the former Portland standout is dealing with a minor heart arrhythmia.
Portland heads to San Antonio on the heels of a dreadful 100-77 loss to New Orleans on Tuesday. Damian Lillard scored 29 points to lead the Trail Blazers, who won five of six before falling flat in the Big Easy.
The previous offensive low for Portland this season was a 111-80 loss to the L.A. Clippers on Nov. 9. It shot 30.3 percent Tuesday and finished far below its 108.6-points per game average.
The Trail Blazers (29-37) are 2 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. They have three more games to play on their five-game road swing that could determine their fate.
"We're fighting," Lillard said Sunday after Portland beat Phoenix 110-101. "I think that's what it comes down to. It's not always a perfect game. It's not always a pretty game. I just like that we're competing, we're playing with a lot of pride, we're playing like we care about where our season goes."
Wednesday's game marks the third of four meetings. San Antonio leads the season series 2-0 and won five straight against Portland.