December 27, 2014

Sugarcoating a 30-point loss in a showdown with the defending NBA champions simply isn't the San Antonio Spurs' style. They shrugged their shoulders, accepted the defeat and moved on before they even reached the airport.

San Antonio had the same mentality after losing to the Houston Rockets on Christmas Day and went on to win 13 in a row. It hasn't lost back-to-back games all season, and it'll try to avoid another losing streak against the visiting Rockets on Wednesday night.

Tim Duncan sat out Monday's 120-90 loss at Golden State because of right knee soreness, but the Spurs (38-7) weren't making any excuses. In a matchup featuring the best combined winning percentage in NBA history this late into a season, they committed eight of their season-high 26 turnovers in the first quarter and never led.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 points for San Antonio, which turned it over 22 times over their previous three games combined. LaMarcus Aldridge admitted "I was bad," going 2 of 9 from the floor and finishing with five points - his fewest when playing at least 20 minutes since 2010.

Coach Gregg Popovich called it "men among boys," but the Spurs aren't dwelling on having their winning streak snapped. It was their first loss in eight games this season without Duncan, who also won't play Wednesday.

"It's the (45th) game of the season. It's not like we're eliminated," said Manu Ginobili, who went 1 of 6 from the field after scoring a season-high 20 points in Friday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers. "We got our butts kicked, that's for sure. We need to be thinking more about Houston."

The Spurs had won 20 of their previous 21, with the only defeat in that stretch an 88-84 loss at Houston on Dec. 25. They avenged that defeat Jan. 2, getting 24 points from Aldridge and 22 from Leonard in a 121-103 home victory.

Dwight Howard had a double-double in each of those matchups for the Rockets (25-22) and finished with one in each of the 10 games he played prior to sitting out the last three because of a sprained left ankle.

Houston has done just fine without him, winning each contest after beginning a three-game trip with Monday's 112-111 win over New Orleans. Trevor Ariza has taken a more active role with Howard out and is averaging 26.3 points while shooting 60.9 percent, including 19 of 31 from 3-point range.

Ariza had 29 points in Sunday's win over Dallas before scoring a season-high 31 and hitting eight of Houston's season-high 19 3s against the Pelicans. He averaged 11.3 points and shot 39.5 percent from the field over his first 43 games.

''I'm just making shots,'' Ariza said. ''I don't think I am really doing anything different. What's been working for us is the game has more of a flow to it. The ball's been moving a lot better than it has previously.''

James Harden is averaging 30.3 points over his last four after finishing with 35 against the Pelicans. He's helped Houston win nine of 12 since the loss to San Antonio to move three games over .500 for the first time this season.

Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Howard could return this week, but he isn't sure if it will be against the Spurs or Friday at Oklahoma City.

''We plan on having him on the trip,'' Bickerstaff said. ''He worked out (Monday) and we'll see how he responds. He'll get an opportunity to work more and then we'll see how it goes from there.''

San Antonio has won three of the last four meetings after Houston won the previous six. Harden is shooting just 36 percent over the last three.

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