Typically strong Spurs to provide ‘ultimate test' for Hawks

The Hawks haven't won at San Antonio since Feb. 15, 1997, and breaking that 166-month streak Friday will mean beating a tough, experienced and balanced team.

No surprise. That's what it's always meant since the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan in the summer of ‘97. It's a different season, a different decade, a different century but the same Spurs.

"A typical Spurs team," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "Just solid in every aspect of the game."

The Hawks are on a roll with seven victories in their last eight games, including a noteworthy 80-74 victory at Orlando Monday. But the Magic were without point guard Jameer Nelson, robbing them of an important element of their offense. The Spurs are healthy and humming.

San Antonio has the league's best record at 18-3 and is undefeated in six games against Eastern Conference opponents. The Spurs are good at lots of things, average at just a few and bad at hardly none.

They can grind in the half court or get out on the fast break. They defend, rebound and are careful with the ball. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are dynamic guards, Duncan is the inside anchor and coach Gregg Popovich gets all of the pieces to fit.

About the only atypical thing about this Spurs team is the hot start. Their usual pattern is to stumble out of the gate, prompting local hand-wringing about whether this is the end of their run with Duncan, before recovering and winning 50 games again.

Since drafting Duncan with the first selection in 1997, the Spurs have won at least 50 games in every season except the strike-shortened year. They've won four championships during that span and made it to the Western Conference finals two other times.

"It's unbelievable," Hawks guard Jamal Crawford said. "Even when you think they are starting slow, they still get 50-plus wins and still have a terrific season. They just know how to get it done.

"I think that is the good part of staying together. The really, really good teams stay together and they know each other inside and out."

Duncan is on the down-side of a 14-year career that's included two league and Finals MVP awards. He no longer has to carry the Spurs offensively; his minutes and shots are down and he's had eight games of scoring less than 10 points (the Spurs were 6-2 in those games).

Duncan still is capable of dominant performances. He had 21 points, 27 rebounds and six assists during San Antonio's 105-90 home victory against Atlanta last February.

Drew said he would use the same starting lineup as the last two games, with Jason Collins at center. Duncan has played center for the Spurs with DeJuan Blair at power forward.

"Hopefully Jason will do a good job to force Tim to work for all his baskets," Drew said. "Tim is going to score because he's good."

Despite their recent resurgence, the Hawks still are trying to prove they can beat the league's better teams consistently. They are just 2-5 against opponents that currently have winning records, though both of the victories came on the road (at Indiana and Orlando).

Winning at San Antonio for the first time 13 years, and without injured All-Star Joe Johnson, would be a high mark for the Hawks.

"It's the ultimate test," Crawford said. "Same old soup. Same people: Ginobili, Duncan, and Parker, of course, the head of the snake. We will have our hands full."