By Jeff McDonald
LOS ANGELES — The question was meant to be a brainteaser. The answer was not supposed to come so easily.
When Tony Parker was asked recently to name the last time his Spurs had lost a game, he could have at least paused a beat and pretended to wrack his brain.
“It was the Lakers,” Parker said, without hesitation.
Consider it proof Parker’s memory isn’t yet failing him, even at the ripe age of 30.
Los Angeles Lakers 98, Spurs 84. That was the last time the Spurs walked off the floor at the ATT Center, or anywhere else, in defeat.
That was April 11. That was 16 wins and 38 days ago.
As the top-seeded Spurs hit the Staples Center today — up a dominating 2-0 in the Western Conference semifinals against Southern California’s other team, marching toward what feels like an inevitable conference final against Oklahoma City — they do so trying to convince themselves of something that doesn’t seem readily apparent.
“We’re not unbeatable,” Parker said. “Anybody can beat anybody. We have to play our best basketball to go far.”
Utah’s Al Jefferson wasn’t so sure during the Spurs’ first-round sweep.
Having dropped the first two games of the second round by a combined 33 points, the fifth-seeded Clippers must be having doubts now, too.
“Right now, everybody’s ?eating,” said Chris Paul, the Clippers’ hobbled and struggling point guard. “Now we go to L.A. and see if we can cut off the water a little.”
The series moves to Hollywood for Games 3 and 4 today and Sunday. It’s going to take more than a change of scenery to close down the Spurs’ buffet line.
During their 16-game run, the Spurs have won by an average of 17.1 points. The 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, who won 16 in a row by 19.5 points, are the only team in NBA history to top that.
As for the part about the Spurs needing to play their best basketball? They aren’t sure they’ve done it yet.
Coach Gregg Popovich went into Thursday grumbling about 18 turnovers and at-times unfocused transition defense in Game 1.
In Game 2, the Spurs gave up 9 of 13 from the 3-point line, a 69.2-percent clip for the Clippers. They still won by 17 points, but who, besides Popovich, is counting?
“That’s what coaches do,” Popovich said. “We have the film, so you can see all kinds of mistakes. We can play better, but they can too.”
Forgive center Boris Diaw for wondering how much better the Spurs can play. They are 26-2 since his arrival from Charlotte on March 23.
“It’s pretty easy to adjust to this team, because of the way they’re playing,” said Diaw, who followed 12 rebounds in Game 1 with 16 points in Game 2. “They’re playing smart basketball.”
No Spurs team has won more than 17 in a row, a streak they can equal today.
Quick prediction: The Spurs will lose again sometime in franchise history. It might even happen during this rare playoff back-to-back, a byproduct of the cramped lockout schedule.
The last time the Spurs played two postseason games in two nights, they closed down the Great Western Forum with a pair of victories over the Lakers in the 1999 conference semis.
Superstitious Spurs fans should enjoy the symmetry. That team went on to win the franchise’s first title in a lockout-shortened season.
“We’re out here for one goal,” said Tim Duncan, who averaged 22 points in the first two games against the Clippers. “We’ve got a team we believe can challenge for that.”
That’s why the Spurs seem so unimpressed with their winning streak, why Popovich doesn’t want to answer questions about it and why players don’t want to think about it.
Sixteen wins mean little when there are still 10 more to go.
“For us, it’s good to not look at that and concentrate on the task,” Parker said. “We should focus on Game 3 and not on the winning streak.”
SPURS VS. CLIPPERS
(Spurs lead best-of-seven series 2-0)
Game 3: Saturday, @Clippers, 2:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Sunday, @Clippers, 9:30 p.m., TNT
* Game 5: Tuesday, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* Game 6: Friday, @Clippers, TBA, ESPN
* Game 7: May 27, @Spurs, TBA, TNT
* If necessary