SAN ANTONIO (AP) -When the San Antonio Spurs went on an 11-game winning streak a few weeks ago and grabbed the lead in the tight Western Conference, it was noteworthy and impressive. But it was not a surprise.
But since the streak was broken earlier this month, the defending champions have slipped to sixth in the West and dropped six of their last seven, including losses to title contenders Detroit, Phoenix, New Orleans and league-leading Boston.
``I'm just like very focused to try to get a 'W' right now,'' said guard Tony Parker. ``It would be nice to get on the winning side.''
March hasn't been easy on the Spurs. They've already played four back-to-backs and seven games on the road, with two back-to-backs yet to come.
``That's going to take a toll on our guys,'' said coach Gregg Popovich, adding that the Spurs are the oldest team in the league. ``I think it's not something that we can use as an excuse, but it's something I have to factor in with trying to keep them ready for the playoffs.''
Popovich called this month's schedule the toughest ``in the many years that I've been here.''
The Spurs started their 11-game streak in February following a loss in Boston to the Celtics, who own the best record in the league. While only half the length of the Houston Rockets' attention grabbing 22-game streak, the Spurs' run featured wins over division rival Dallas; this season's up-and-comer, New Orleans; and last season's finals opponent, Cleveland.
Then at the tail end of the streak came a packed stretch of eight games in 12 days against some of the NBA's top teams, ending with a marquee matchup between the Spurs and Celtics. The reigning champs vs. the new kid on the block. The dynasty vs. the upstart.
The Spurs narrowly lost to Boston on Monday at home, surrendering the season series 0-2 and bringing their skid to a season-high four straight. The last time that happened during the regular season was 2003-04.
``I think we've actually played pretty well in some losses,'' Popovich said pregame Monday. ``So sometimes losses aren't as bad as they seem and sometimes wins aren't as good as they seem.''
Stick San Antonio's 93-91 defeat to Boston in that category, said Parker.
``It's a fine line, fine line between a win or a loss. That's why we can't get in a panic mode,'' he said. ``Just OK, we're having a bad period, we lost a couple of games in a row. ... Right now we just have to keep believing in the system and play a little bit harder and it'll turn around.''
With a month left until the playoffs start, Popovich, among other moves, put super-sub Manu Ginobili back on the bench after having him start 21 games since late January. In a reserve role, Ginobili, the team's leading scorer with Tim Duncan and Parker not far behind, provides an energy boost for the team when he comes in midway through the first quarter.
``Since we lost two or three or four games, we are kind of hesitant now down the stretch and we are making mistakes that we usually don't make,'' Ginobili said. ``I believe (that) is a result of being a little insecure or lacking confidence, but it's something that you get back as soon as you get a good win.''
They'll get that chance on Thursday in Chicago, the first game of their next back-to-back.
Forward Bruce Bowen sees more than one way to view the team's struggles as a positive.
``It's a rough time right now, but these are the times where you figure out the team you have,'' he said after the Boston loss.
And with the West still wide open, every game counts, Bowen said. The top teams change positions often - Denver is sitting just outside playoff contention in the No. 9 spot - and only a handful of games separates first from eighth.
``There's not a lot of room for error and that's what you want,'' Bowen said. ``I think this is preparation for what's to come.''
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