Six-game stretch could make or break sea­son for 14th-place Spurs

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF Mc­DON­ALD

Spurs get chance to avenge Wed­nes­day’s loss to Lak­ers.

Over much of the pre­vi­ous few weeks, the talk in Los An­ge­les was about LeBron James’ high us­age rate and heavy work­load.

Isn’t he hav­ing to break too much of a sweat for a 34-year-old ac­cus­tomed to eas­ing into sea­sons in the East­ern Con­fer­ence?

James’ new Lak­ers team­mates con­sider that de­bate closed after what he did to the Spurs in the fourth quar­ter Wed­nes­day.

“Peo­ple should re­ally stop crit­i­ciz­ing, shut Spurs In­sider Falls City 30, Bur­ton 28 up and wit­ness great­ness when it’s hap­pen­ing,” guard Josh Hart said.

The Spurs, mean­while, saw enough of James’ great­ness in the fi­nal 12 min­utes at the Sta­ples Cen­ter to last a life­time.

James scored 20 of his 42 points in the fi­nal frame Wed­nes­day, res­cu­ing the Lak­ers in a 121-113 vic­tory and send­ing the Spurs home from an­other road trip win­less.

Un­for­tu­nately for the Spurs, great­ness is now com­ing to them. They kick off a six-game home­s­tand tonight against the same team led by the same player who tor­mented them down the stretch in Los An­ge­les.

“It sucks like hell to lose, es­pe­cially when ev­ery­body’s fight­ing so hard,” guard De­Mar DeRozan said. “We’ve got to stay pos­i­tive and un­der­stand as long as we keep at it, the bas­ket­ball gods are go­ing to turn in our fa­vor.”

They bet­ter hope so. It’s not even Christ­mas, and the Spurs al­ready face what might be a make-or-break home­s­tand.

They are 11-14, in 14th place in the 15-team Western Con­fer­ence, and haven’t won two games in a row since end­ing a four-game win­ning streak Nov. 4.

If the Spurs are go­ing to start stack­ing up wins and punch their way into the play­off pic­ture, now seems as good a time as any.

“The Western Con­fer­ence is stacked,” said for­ward Rudy Gay, who fol­lowed a score­less game in

the Spurs’ 139-105 de­feat in Utah with a 31-point ef­fort against the Lak­ers. “I think ev­ery­body is beat­ing up on each other. If we can get a cou­ple games, we’ll be right back where we want to be.”

After play­ing 10 of the pre­vi­ous 14 games on the road, the Spurs can at last un­pack a while.

The Spurs take on the Lak­ers, the Jazz and the sur­pris­ing Los An­ge­les Clip­pers, and also face two teams with worse records than their own in Chicago and Phoenix. The Spurs close the home­s­tand against Philadel­phia on Dec. 17.

On the sur­face, the next 10 days present an op­por­tu­nity to steady the ship and build mo­men­tum. On the flip side, if the Spurs can’t make progress to­ward .500 now, when will they ever?

“We’ve got to take full ad­van­tage of it,” DeRozan said. “You just chip at it one game at a time. Be­fore you know it, you’ll look up and April will be here. As long as we keep work­ing hard, we’ll be on the right side of the win col­umn.”

It has been more than a decade since the Spurs faced such earl­y­sea­son ad­ver­sity.

The last time the Spurs were three games un­der .500 was Novem­ber 2008. They be­gan that sea­son with­out Manu Gi­no­bili, who was re­cov­er­ing from an­kle surgery a few months be­fore.

Gi­no­bili even­tu­ally re­turned, and the Spurs ral­lied to win 54 games. There is no such fu­ture Hall of Famer rid­ing to the Spurs’ res­cue in 2018.

“No one is happy with los­ing,” cen­ter La­Mar­cus Aldridge said. “Ev­ery­body is try­ing to do their part and get bet­ter. It’s a dif­fer­ent team, a new makeup, and we’ve got to fig­ure it out.”

The Lak­ers went through their own set of grow­ing pains ear­lier in the sea­son, and seem to have sur­vived.

Strug­gling to rein­vent them­selves around James, the Lak­ers went just 3-5 in Oc­to­ber. A con­tentious Nov. 5 meet­ing be­tween coach Luke Wal­ton and pres­i­dent Magic John­son only am­pli­fied the pres­sure in Los An­ge­les.

After beat­ing the Spurs on Wed­nes­day, the Lak­ers have won 11 of 14 and have climbed within two games of first place in the West.

Wal­ton said his team has done

Harry How / Getty Im­ages

De­Mar DeRozan and the Spurs had no an­swer Wed­nes­day as LeBron James scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth quar­ter.

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