The San Antonio Spurs relied on an unlikely candidate down the stretch to beat the team with the best record in the Western Conference. Late heroics could again be in order when they meet the surging Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers look to extend their season-high winning streak to six games Friday night when they host a Spurs team coming off a dramatic win over the defending West champs.
San Antonio (25-12) led the Los Angeles Lakers by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter Wednesday night before reigning MVP Kobe Bryant made a 3-pointer to put the first-place Lakers up two with 12 seconds remaining.
With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all on the court, the Spurs gave the ball to Roger Mason, who made a baseline jumper with 10 seconds left despite being fouled. Mason then sank the free throw and the Spurs held on for a 112-111 victory.
It was the second game-winning play of the season for Mason, who also hit a last-second 3-pointer to beat Phoenix on Christmas.
"He has the confidence to do it, and he has the license to do it," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We all trust him."
Mason, signed as a free agent in July, finished with 18 points Wednesday, going 7-for-11 from the field -- 3-for-4 from 3-point range.
He and the Spurs could be involved in another battle in Philadelphia, where the Sixers (18-20) routed Portland 100-79 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight win since a 108-106 loss in San Antonio on Jan. 3.
Philadelphia, tied for last in the league with 154 3-pointers, made a season-high 11 from beyond the arc Wednesday, a direct result of coach Tony DiLeo's encouragement. The Sixers are near the bottom of the NBA in 3-point shooting (32.2 percent), but they've connected on 34 of 70 attempts (48.6) during their winning streak.
"It does get contagious," DiLeo said. "When guys hit it, they know the next game they can hit it. They know the are free to shoot it."
Sixers forward Andre Iguodala agrees. He made four 3s en route to a season-high 29 points against the Trail Blazers, and is averaging 23.2 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 54.7 percent from the field during Philadelphia's run. He's also 10-for-20 from beyond the arc in that stretch.
"Guys are just playing with a lot of confidence right now," Iguodala said. "We feel like we can make any shot. We're shooting with a rhythm, we're shooting with confidence, and more than likely, it's going to go in."
Philadelphia hasn't had a longer streak since it won seven straight from Feb. 26-March 10, 2007. It would have a better chance of extending its current run if Elton Brand can return Friday.
The two-time All-Star forward, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract over the summer, hasn't played since sustaining a fracture and tear in his right shoulder Dec. 17. He returned to practice this week and will be evaluated again Thursday.
"Hopefully, he can come in and help us," guard Andre Miller said.
Miller had a season high-tying 28 points and went 12-for-14 from the field in Philadelphia's loss in San Antonio, while Iguodala had 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
The Spurs had five players with at least 14 points in that game, including Mason, who scored 19 and went 5-for-5 from 3-point range.
San Antonio has lost six of its last eight visits to Philadelphia, falling 103-96 there last March 15 as Miller and Iguodala combined for 57 points.