Hollinger's PER Diem: Nov. 25, 2008

I wrote Monday night about the Rockets surviving the early-season grind to stay afloat in the West, but they're not the only team in Texas that's doing so. Dallas has quietly won four straight to move up to sixth in our daily Power Rankings, and the Spurs, in their typical below-radar fashion, are back on the good side of .500 after their win in Memphis.

It was a landmark win in a couple of ways. First, it marked the return of Manu Ginobili from ankle surgery. Though he only played 11 minutes, Ginobili pumped in 12 points and added four boards and an assist, suggesting he'll keep putting up the freakish per-minute averages he posted a season ago.

Additionally, George Hill (PER 17.06) and Roger Mason (17.07) continued to play extremely well in Tony Parker's absence. The duo combined for 38 points and six assists Monday to supplement Ginobili and Tim Duncan, an area in which the Spurs looked to be lacking on paper.

While those two will take on a less prominent role once Parker comes back in two weeks, they'll remain important because they give the Spurs some unexpected firepower off the pine -- after it appeared age and attrition had reduced San Antonio to just three viable scorers.

However, the most important development in San Antonio is on the other side of the ball. The Spurs' defense was shockingly bad in the season's first two weeks, but no longer. San Antonio has improved from 29th in defensive efficiency all the way to 14th and has held six of its past eight opponents to less than 90 points. Supposedly, the Spurs scrapped some new defensive tactics they were trying and went back to the old stuff that worked. Whatever the cause, these now look like the buttoned-down, suffocating Spurs we're familiar with seeing.

Upcoming home games against Chicago and Memphis figure to allow the Spurs to put some distance between themselves and the break-even mark before a showdown in Houston on Saturday, with the winner earning the survivor award for the first quarter of the season -- and, most likely, the Southwest Division lead.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.