Aldridge upbeat as Spurs visit Grizzlies

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LaMarcus Aldridge felt good about most aspects of his return.
The only thing missing was the win for the San Antonio Spurs.

The Memphis Grizzlies would like to keep Aldridge and the Spurs
from getting a win.

The Spurs continue their pursuit of the Western Conference’s
top spot Saturday night when they visit the Grizzlies, who are
vying for a spot in the middle of the pack.

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Aldridge missed two games with a minor heart arrhythmia and the
Spurs won both times by beating the Golden State Warriors and
Atlanta Hawks. The win over the Hawks put San Antonio (52-15)
into a tie for first place in the West with the Warriors.

Sharing the top spot was short-lived since Golden State beat
Atlanta on Tuesday and the Spurs were handed a 110-106 loss to
the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday despite 34 points from
Kawhi Leonard. One night later, the Warriors routed the Orlando
Magic, creating a 1 1/2-game lead in the race for first place.

Aldridge returned Wednesday and scored 19 points while shooting
9 of 24. More importantly, Aldridge said he felt fine and would
be free of limitations for the rest of the season.

“I feel good and it felt good being back out there,” Aldridge
said. “We didn’t get the win and that’s kind of hard to deal
with. This is something I’ve dealt with since my first year in
the league. I know my body well and I had an off feeling. We
put a protocol in place and I saw the right people and I’m good
to go.”

Aldridge was 6 of 18 in the final three quarters and missed a
handful of shots near the rim.

“I felt like my rhythm was good early and then my touch was off
around the rim, and that bothered me,” Aldridge said. “It was
the first game back, I will be back.”

The Spurs are 16-4 since losing consecutive games to the New
Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 27-29.
Wednesday’s game might have been one of San Antonio’s worst in
recent weeks, at least until the final few minutes.

“We just didn’t guard them tonight the way we needed to,” Spurs
coach Gregg Popovich said. “We played as hard as they did the
last four minutes of the game. Maybe it’s a good lesson — it’s
a 48-minute game; can’t wait until the end.”

As for getting the top seed in the West, scheduling could play
a role. Starting Saturday, nine of San Antonio’s last 15 games
are against teams in the top eight and three of those games
take place next against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento
Kings and New York Knicks.

“You’ve got some teams fighting for everything, some teams with
no big responsibilities and playing freely, so everything is
complicated at this point,” guard Manu Ginobili told the San
Antonio-Express News.

Meanwhile, eight of Golden State’s final 14 games are against
teams in the top eight

Memphis (39-30) currently is seventh in the West, putting them
on target for a first-round matchup with the Spurs. The
Grizzlies are a half-game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and
one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Grizzlies are on a three-game winning streak after Marc
Gasol’s triple-double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists
led them to a 103-91 road win over the Atlanta Hawks on
Thursday.

Memphis is 17-16 since Jan. 1 and has put together three
three-game winning streaks since. In their previous attempts to
get a fourth straight win in the last two months, the Grizzlies
lost by 15 to Golden State on Feb. 10 and lost by 12 at
Oklahoma City on Feb. 3.

The last three games also seemed to signal a defensive
turnaround for the Grizzlies, who held the Hawks to 40 percent
shooting and 13 points in the third quarter while limiting
Dennis Schroder to 4-of-16 shooting.

“Our defense was really stellar tonight against a great
offensive team and a great offensive coach,” Memphis coach
David Fizdale said. “We were really consistent with executing
our coverage and doing it with great effort.”

During a five-game losing streak March 3-11, Memphis allowed an
average of 114 points, 50.4 percent shooting, including 39.6
percent from 3-point range, and posted a 117.5 defensive
rating. In the last three games, the Grizzlies have allowed
91.7 points and 41 percent shooting while posting a defensive
rating of 101.7

“We’re a different team from a week ago,” Memphis point guard
Mike Conley said. “We’ve finally found our defensive identity
again. We’re playing with a purpose, like we need to be, and
getting a good win on a back-to-back in Atlanta is huge for us.
We definitely needed it.”

Conley scored 22 points and handed out 12 assists Thursday. In
his last three games, he is averaging 23 points and 9.7
assists.

The Grizzlies took the first meeting 89-74 when the Spurs
played without Leonard and shot 36.6 percent in Memphis on Feb.
6. San Antonio has won 10 of the last 13 meetings.

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