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Struggling San Antonio Spurs grind out win vs. Phoenix Suns

By
Jerry Brown, The Sports Xchange

PHOENIX -- For the San Antonio Spurs, another Rodeo Road Trip is progressing nicely.

For the Phoenix Suns, the worst homestand in franchise history is mercifully over.

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Guards Tony Parker and Patty Mills scored 22 and 21 points, respectively, but the Spurs struggled with the struggling Suns before pulling away for a 118-111 win Sunday.

Forward LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points and 10 rebounds and Rasual Butler had 12 points for the Spurs, who are 4-1 five games into an eight-game road trip necessitated by the annual rodeo run at the AT&T Center.

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San Antonio has won eight of its last night games overall improve to 47-9, the best 56-game start in franchise history. That record is one game better than the 2010-11 Spurs team (46-10).

The Spurs have now beaten the Suns seven straight times. But unlike the past six, which they won by an average of 20 points, this one was close most of the way. The Spurs never led by more than 12 points and the Suns tied the game with just over six minutes left.

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"You have to give them credit. They played well," Parker said. "They played very aggressive defense. They made some shots, a lot of threes (nine). It was a game and we executed very well (down the stretch) and on defense we finally made some stops."

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Including Sunday, San Antonio has outscored their 56 opponents by a total of 697 points. Only two teams in NBA history have had a point differential of more than 700 points through 56 games -- the 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks (plus-744) and, in the same year, the eventual NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers (plus-716).

Center Alex Len had 23 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns, who never led but never let the Spurs get away. Mirza Teletovic and Archie Goodwin added 14 each for the Suns, who lost a season-high 11 straight games overall and seven straight games at Talking Stick Arena to try a franchise record. Interim coach Earl Watson went 0-7 on the homestand after replacing Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

"Before the game, I told Alex Len we need 20-plus points and double-digit rebounds out of him to have a chance," Watson said. "He looked at me and said 'OK' so he went out and delivered against a team that is known for defensively controlling the interior paint. So a big step forward for Alex Len."

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Overall, the Suns (14-42) lost 26 of their last 28 games, the worst such stretch in franchise history. But after being blown out by the Houston Rockets on Friday, they showed much better against the Spurs.

"Coach said after the game that we have a good way to lose. We lost today in the good way," Len said. "We fought until the end. We just got to play like this every night."

The Spurs won without leading scorer, forward Kawhi Leonard (left calf), and the Suns played without center Tyson Chandler (right shoulder sprain).

The Suns were down 90-82 with 10:17 left in the game but 3-pointers by forwards Teletovic and Jon Leuer cut into the lead and Phoenix tied the game at 100 on a 18-footer by guard Sonny Weems with 6:22 left to play.

But the Spurs scored the next seven points, with Aldridge and Danny Green hitting baskets before Mills hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game to make it 107-100 San Antonio with 4:53 to go.

"They mixed things up defensively and they attacked us," Mills said. "They got into a press and were able to get up into us full court which we haven't seen at all this year. We were happy we could come out of a scrappy game with a win."

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The Suns got as close as three points again at 107-104, but Butler hit a 3-pointer with 3:03 to go and the Spurs pushed their lead to as many as nine.

"Our bench played real well," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Kyle Anderson, Rasual, Patty Mills and then Tony got some juice at the end of the game so we were real fortunate."

Four of the five Spurs starters scored before the Suns did, but San Antonio gave back the 8-0 lead before using two of four Mills 3-pointers off the bench in the first half to rebuild it to 30-21 at the end of one quarter.

Aldridge had nine points to lead the Spurs. The Suns committed seven turnovers in the quarter but kept pace with 50 percent shooting.

Len and guard Goodwin each had seven points in the second quarter and the Suns pulled within 45-40 with 5:36 left. Len had 11 points and nine rebounds in the half.

Despite a tough first half from center Tim Duncan, who missed four of five shots and was whistled for a technical with 1:02 to play, the Spurs restored the lead to 60-50. Mills and Aldridge combined for 23 points for San Antonio.

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The Suns had their best quarter in the third. They scored 32 points and cut the Spurs lead to one point twice, each on layups by Leuer. Parker had seven points for San Antonio and Mills' fifth 3-pointer with 26.2 seconds left pushed the lead back to 88-82 after three quarters.

NOTES: Spurs F Kawhi Leonard sat out a third consecutive game due to left calf tightness. ... C Kris Humphries became the 13th player in Suns history to record a double-double in his Phoenix debut when he had 18 points and 12 rebounds Thursday against the Houston Rockets. He joins a list that includes Gail Goodrich, Connie Hawkins, Charles Barkley and Shawn Marion. ... The Spurs won their previous six meetings against the Suns, the last five by an average of 23.1 points per game. ... Suns F Mirza Teletovic scored a season-high 25 points against the Rockets on Thursday, and he was averaging 17.2 points off the bench over the previous five games before Sunday.

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