The San Antonio Spurs have proved to be a dangerous team even if their best players aren't in the lineup.
They're even better when at full strength, which is expected to be the case when they try to end the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder's eight-game winning streak Saturday night in this showdown between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference.
Duncan and Ginobili were both given the night off to rest as San Antonio (21-5) played its fifth game in seven nights, and Parker was held out for the second straight contest because of a bruised right shin. It's a strategy coach Gregg Popovich used in the past to much criticism -- and a $250,000 fine from the league -- though he feels there's nothing out of the ordinary about it.
"How smart do you have to be to rest guys that are older than dirt?" Popovich said. "Everybody has a different kind of team. I know my team. We've been doing this for years. We've been saving minutes for Timmy and Manu since the day they got here, and I think it's prolonged their careers."
Parker will be re-evaluated before it's determined if he'll return Saturday, but Duncan and Ginobili should be back against a team that has given the Spurs problems of late. The Thunder have won three of the last four meetings, including a 94-88 victory on Nov. 27 despite Russell Westbrook going 2 of 16.
Backup Reggie Jackson tied a career high with 23 points, hitting 10 of 14 shots.
That game was in Oklahoma City, however, and the results have been much different in San Antonio. The Spurs have won the last six regular-season meetings at AT&T Center, holding Kevin Durant to 23.0 points per game and Westbrook to 18.5 on 35.8 percent shooting.
They even won the latest at home without Parker, getting a team-high 21 points and 10 boards from Tiago Splitter, whose tip-in with 2.1 seconds left beat the Warriors on Thursday.
Leonard has averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in his last there games against Oklahoma City, though he'll have his hands full trying to defend Durant.
Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 28.7 points per game, but he's really stepped up his efficiency during the Thunder's winning streak. He's shooting 57.8 percent -- 58.6 from 3-point range -- after shooting 45.5 percent overall and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc during Oklahoma City's first 17 games.
The Thunder are sharing the ball better during the streak as well. They've averaged 24.8 assists over the past eight games after recording 20.6 per contest through Dec. 4.
Durant had six of Oklahoma City's 26 assists and Westbrook 10 in Thursday's 107-95 win over Chicago.
"If we move the ball like that with the guys we have that create for everybody, create for themselves, it makes it tough on other teams," Durant said.
The Thunder have enjoyed a big edge on the boards lately against San Antonio, posting a plus-7.6 rebounding margin in the series' last five games. Serge Ibaka has been the driving force inside, averaging 16.5 points, 13.8 boards and 3.5 blocks in his last four against the Spurs.
Russell Westbrook dropped a game-high 31 points on 13-22 shooting (59.1%) shooting against the Spurs, his best career shooting night against San Antonio. Westbrook entered the game shooting 36% from the field in 19 career games against the Spurs, his worst percentage versus any opponent.
The Thunder have the best record in the NBA and it's thanks in part to a much-improved Russell Westbrook. His November saw him shoot just 39 percent from the floor as he looked to shake off the rust from his knee injury, and he was just 72 percent from the line. In December though, he's 46 percent from the floor and nearly 90 percent from the charity stripe.