While the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs have succeeded despite injuries to some key players, trying to maintain that success without their star point guard could present their toughest challenge of the season.
The Spurs begin a lengthy stretch without five-time All-Star Tony Parker as they continue a six-game homestand looking to avenge last month's loss to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.
After its run of 18 consecutive home victories ended with a 105-101 overtime loss to lowly Phoenix on Wednesday, San Antonio (46-14) bounced back Friday to shoot a season-high 60.7 percent in a 130-102 rout of Sacramento. The victory, however, seemed bittersweet after Parker left in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle.
The team announced Saturday that an MRI showed a Grade 2 sprain that will keep Parker sidelined "approximately four weeks."
"He's been a stalwart for us. He's having an All-Star season," coach Gregg Popovich said. "As I've said, he's playing better than any other point guard in the league consistently through the year. We will miss him."
Parker's team-leading averages of 21.0 points and 7.6 assists are slightly off his career highs, and he's been particularly effective scoring the ball lately even with nagging arm and knee soreness. He has scored 25.4 per game over his last nine despite leaving Wednesday's game early with 13 points.
San Antonio is 3-1 without Parker, with the only loss coming to reigning champ Miami.
This injury may be the most prominent on a long list the Spurs have had to overcome.
Tim Duncan recently missed eight games with a sore knee, Manu Ginobili has sat out 13 with various ailments and starting swingman Kawhi Leonard missed 18 early in the season with knee tendinitis. Veteran Stephen Jackson sat 14 with a broken finger and is currently dealing with a sore ankle, and Boris Diaw could sit out a second straight contest with a strained back.
Through it all, the deep Spurs have shot a Western Conference-best 48.7 percent while taking a three-game lead over Oklahoma City. They have won 18 of 21 and are 23-3 at home.
"We've played with all different kinds of people throughout this year," said Duncan, who has three double-doubles in four games. "We're going to rally. Pop is going to change some lineups.
"We're obviously not going to replace (Parker). But we're going to have to change the way we play for a little while."
Though Parker's absence could mean more time for guards Nando De Colo, Patrick Mills and Cory Joseph, Ginobili might be the team's best option to assume the role of chief playmaker. He recorded a career-best 15 of San Antonio's season-high 41 assists Friday.
"We'll have to play better," said Ginobili, second on the team with 4.6 assists per game. "We're going to have to move the ball really well, because what (Parker) creates off the dribble, nobody will be able do it."
The Spurs flaunted their depth Friday with eight players scoring in double figures, led by DeJuan Blair's 16.
San Antonio hopes to maintain that balance versus Detroit (23-38), which snapped the Spurs' season-high 11-game winning streak with a 119-109 home victory Feb. 8. Parker scored 31 while the Spurs played without Duncan and Ginobili. Greg Monroe had 26 points and 16 rebounds, Brandon Knight scored 24 and Charlie Villanueva 21 for the Pistons, who shot 51.7 percent while matching their highest point total of the season.
Detroit enters the rematch having lost four of five after a 100-95 defeat at New Orleans on Friday.
Monroe had 27 points and 10 rebounds, two days after finishing with 26 and 11 in a win at Washington. Knight totaled 54 points in those two games after missing three with a knee injury.