NBA

Aldridge upbeat as Spurs visit Grizzlies

LaMarcus Aldridge felt good about most aspects of his return. The only thing missing was the win for the San Antonio Spurs.

The Memphis Grizzlies would like to keep Aldridge and the Spurs from getting a win.

The Spurs continue their pursuit of the Western Conference's top spot Saturday night when they visit the Grizzlies, who are vying for a spot in the middle of the pack.

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Aldridge missed two games with a minor heart arrhythmia and the Spurs won both times by beating the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks. The win over the Hawks put San Antonio (52-15) into a tie for first place in the West with the Warriors.

Sharing the top spot was short-lived since Golden State beat Atlanta on Tuesday and the Spurs were handed a 110-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday despite 34 points from Kawhi Leonard. One night later, the Warriors routed the Orlando Magic, creating a 1 1/2-game lead in the race for first place.

Aldridge returned Wednesday and scored 19 points while shooting 9 of 24. More importantly, Aldridge said he felt fine and would be free of limitations for the rest of the season.

"I feel good and it felt good being back out there," Aldridge said. "We didn't get the win and that's kind of hard to deal with. This is something I've dealt with since my first year in the league. I know my body well and I had an off feeling. We put a protocol in place and I saw the right people and I'm good to go."

Aldridge was 6 of 18 in the final three quarters and missed a handful of shots near the rim.

"I felt like my rhythm was good early and then my touch was off around the rim, and that bothered me," Aldridge said. "It was the first game back, I will be back."

The Spurs are 16-4 since losing consecutive games to the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 27-29. Wednesday's game might have been one of San Antonio's worst in recent weeks, at least until the final few minutes.

"We just didn't guard them tonight the way we needed to," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We played as hard as they did the last four minutes of the game. Maybe it's a good lesson -- it's a 48-minute game; can't wait until the end."

As for getting the top seed in the West, scheduling could play a role. Starting Saturday, nine of San Antonio's last 15 games are against teams in the top eight and three of those games take place next against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks.

"You've got some teams fighting for everything, some teams with no big responsibilities and playing freely, so everything is complicated at this point," guard Manu Ginobili told the San Antonio-Express News.

Meanwhile, eight of Golden State's final 14 games are against teams in the top eight

Memphis (39-30) currently is seventh in the West, putting them on target for a first-round matchup with the Spurs. The Grizzlies are a half-game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Grizzlies are on a three-game winning streak after Marc Gasol's triple-double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists led them to a 103-91 road win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.

Memphis is 17-16 since Jan. 1 and has put together three three-game winning streaks since. In their previous attempts to get a fourth straight win in the last two months, the Grizzlies lost by 15 to Golden State on Feb. 10 and lost by 12 at Oklahoma City on Feb. 3.

The last three games also seemed to signal a defensive turnaround for the Grizzlies, who held the Hawks to 40 percent shooting and 13 points in the third quarter while limiting Dennis Schroder to 4-of-16 shooting.

"Our defense was really stellar tonight against a great offensive team and a great offensive coach," Memphis coach David Fizdale said. "We were really consistent with executing our coverage and doing it with great effort."

During a five-game losing streak March 3-11, Memphis allowed an average of 114 points, 50.4 percent shooting, including 39.6 percent from 3-point range, and posted a 117.5 defensive rating. In the last three games, the Grizzlies have allowed 91.7 points and 41 percent shooting while posting a defensive rating of 101.7

"We're a different team from a week ago," Memphis point guard Mike Conley said. "We've finally found our defensive identity again. We're playing with a purpose, like we need to be, and getting a good win on a back-to-back in Atlanta is huge for us. We definitely needed it."

Conley scored 22 points and handed out 12 assists Thursday. In his last three games, he is averaging 23 points and 9.7 assists.

The Grizzlies took the first meeting 89-74 when the Spurs played without Leonard and shot 36.6 percent in Memphis on Feb. 6. San Antonio has won 10 of the last 13 meetings.