Rockets, Spurs set for San Antonio clash

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( - The San Antonio Spurs welcome their Texan neighbors, the Houston Rockets, for a Southwest showdown on Christmas night.

The Spurs have played well recently with three wins in their last four and seven victories in their last nine. They are a comfortable 4 1/2 games ahead of the Rockets in the division.

On Monday, the Spurs avoided losing back-to-back games for the first time this season with a 112-99 home victory over the Toronto Raptors, a team that handed the Oklahoma City Thunder their first home loss of the season on Sunday.

Tony Parker registered 26 points and eight assists and San Antonio made 6-of-7 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

"A win is a win," said Parker. "They've been playing well, the Raptors. They had a big win in OKC, and they made it hard on us."

Gregg Popovich was a little more effusive in his praise Monday, but it was for his All-Star point guard.

"We won that game because of Tony Parker's aggressiveness. His juice. His aggression all night long," Popovich said.

Manu Ginobili continued his fantastic play this season with 18 points off the bench. Danny Green went 4-for-6 from 3-point land and finished with 14. Kawhi Leonard had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Tim Duncan chipped in nine points, 12 boards and four blocks.

The Rockets fell on Monday, at home to the Dallas Mavericks, 111-104. Houston has alternated wins and losses over its last eight games.

The Rockets had no answers for Dirk Nowitzki on Monday. The future Hall of Famer went off for 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting as Dallas shot over 50 percent from the field.

"We tried a bunch of different stuff," said Houston hHead coach Kevin McHale. "We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work."

The Rockets were solid on offense despite being without leading scorer James Harden, who sat with a sprained left ankle. He is questionable for Wednesday.

Jeremy Lin returned from a four-game absence with back spasms and scored 20 points. He started in place of normal starter Patrick Beverley, who is out with a broken right hand.

Dwight Howard had another monster game with 29 points and 15 rebounds. Chandler Parsons finished with 21 points and Aaron Brooks chipped in 18 off the bench. Terrence Jones managed 10 points.

The Rockets play five of their next six at home.

Houston defeated San Antonio in Alamo City on Nov. 30, 112-106. The Rockets have won two straight against the Spurs after losing four in a row before that.

The Spurs have won 10 of their last 13 against the Rockets at home.