Bulls-Spurs Preview

While Gregg Popovich was away, the San Antonio Spurs had a minor hiccup.

Another one shouldn't be expected Thursday night when he returns, even facing the Eastern Conference team to have the most success against the Spurs in recent years and already beat them this season.

That club is the Chicago Bulls, but they won't have Jimmy Butler - possibly for a while - and haven't won on the road in more than a month whereas San Antonio hasn't lost a regular-season home game in about a year.

The Spurs' run of 39 consecutive home victories goes back to an overtime loss to Cleveland last March 12 and is one shy of the Orlando Magic (1995-96) for the third-longest streak in NBA history.

San Antonio's .832 win percentage at home since the start of 2009-10 is easily the NBA's best, but the Bulls have split six games there in that span. Their 7-5 record versus the Spurs (54-10) during that time is bettered only by Portland's 14-9 mark.

Chicago (32-30) beat San Antonio 92-89 on Nov. 30, though that was before injuries derailed its season. The Bulls' seven-game road losing streak is their longest since an eight-game skid early in 2009-10.

The current slide dates to a win in Sacramento on Feb. 3, the first of 13 games which Butler has missed due to knee trouble. He sat out Monday's 100-90 win over Milwaukee, two days after returning from an 11-game absence to score 24 against Houston.

Coach Fred Hoiberg originally believed Butler would return for this game after the swelling had gone down, but his leading scorer instead headed to Alabama to meet with Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion.

Chicago, which also lost Aaron Brooks (patellar tendinitis) and Bobby Portis (orbital contusion) in Monday's win, has had 142 player games missed due to injury.

''I mean at this point it's borderline comical,'' veteran Mike Dunleavy said. ''We just can't stay healthy for whatever reason.''

While it's unclear if Brooks or Portis will play Thursday, Popovich will be back after missing two games to tend to a family medical condition.

The first one went poorly, with the Spurs having an eight-game winning streak snapped with Monday's 99-91 defeat in Indiana. They shot a season-worst 35.4 percent but responded the next night to hit 55.3 percent in a 116-91 win over Minnesota.

''I thought guys came back understanding we have to be better on both ends of the floor,'' said LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 29 points and is averaging 25.4 over his last five games.

Assistant Ettore Messina was the head man in place of Popovich.

''The machine is a well-oiled machine,'' Messina said. ''It goes on. You try to sit at the wheel and steer and try not to mess it up. Keep it straight.''

The Spurs weren't straight from 3-point range without Popovich, going 8 of 47. They were 2 of 14 against the Bulls in November, an area that has made a big difference in this series with San Antonio hitting 29.9 percent in the last seven losses and 50.0 percent in the last five wins.

The Bulls have won four straight over San Antonio when Derrick Rose has played. He's shooting 55.1 percent and averaging 21.4 points since the All-Star break.

It's unclear if he will face Tony Parker, who sat out Tuesday with a toe injury after totaling 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting in the previous three games.

Veteran guard Kevin Martin could make his Spurs debut after officially being signed Wednesday. Martin was bought out by Minnesota on March 1 after averaging 10.6 points in 39 games, 7.0 below his career scoring average.

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