Spurs beats Hornets, take first in West
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
The San Antonio Spurs rose to the top of the Western Conference standings by overpowering the weakest team in the conference.
The win, coupled with Oklahoma City's loss to Indiana, moved the Spurs percentage points ahead of the Thunder for first place in the West. A loss by Houston later Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers would clinch San Antonio's 15th consecutive playoff berth.
The last time the Spurs didn't make the playoffs was in 1996-97, the season before Duncan arrived.
Duncan said the team's strong play at the outset was a result of its struggles late against Boston on Wednesday.
''We didn't play well the second half of the last game, so we wanted to come out and be a little more focused and play a little better,'' Duncan said. ''It was a good start for us. We got a lot of people in, a lot of different players in. Everybody we kept rotating in kept playing well, so it was a great team effort.''
Eric Gordon, playing in only his second game in three months, scored 31 points to lead the Hornets, who have lost four of their last five games. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Carl Landry scored 13, and Greivis Vasquez added 12.
San Antonio jumped out to a 72-45 halftime lead and was never threatened the second half. As a result, the Spurs, who have played much of the season without Ginobili because of injuries, sit atop the West.
''It's great, but there's too many games left,'' Duncan said. ''We're going to go through some ups and downs. We're going to lose some games. They're going to lose some games. We'll see how we come out at the other end, but at this point of the season, we haven't been playing for that. But it's great to be in that situation.''
The easy win gave the Spurs their second streak of at least 10 victories — they won 11 straight earlier this season — and also allowed coach Gregg Popovich to rest his stars.
Popovich has carefully managed minutes all season in anticipation of the playoffs, something easier to do now with a bench strengthened by the additions of Mills, Jackson and Boris Diaw. The Spurs' reserves, led by Ginobili, scored 82 points, allowing Duncan to play only 20 minutes and Parker just 16. Ginobili played 21.
''The bench contributed another big game for us,'' Neal said. ''Patty came in and made some shots, I was able to make some shots, Matty (Bonner) made some shots. Boris came in and gave us good minutes. Tiago (Splitter) came in and played well. That's going to help us in preparing for the playoffs.''
The Hornets, meanwhile, were without point guard Jarrett Jack for the second straight game. Jack, who has a right foot sprain, averages 15.6 points and 6.3 assists per game. Against the Spurs, Jack had been particularly effective, averaging 26.5 points and 7.0 assists in two games.
''I think it's one of those things that may take some time to heal,'' coach Monty Williams said before the game.
Vasquez started in Jack's place but had only four points in the first half.
Ginobili scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half to help San Antonio take its big lead. The Spurs outscored the Hornets 38-21 in the second quarter to essentially put the game away.
''We couldn't guard tonight,'' Williams said. ''Since I've been here, that was the worst defensive effort I've seen. We couldn't guard a bike if we were riding it tonight. It was unpleasant to watch. Our guys allowed that much penetration over and over. I told them `if you're going to play that way, you're going to (be) embarrassed.''
NOTES: The Spurs shot a season-high 51 for 84 and had 31 assists. New Orleans had 11 assists. ... Twelve of the Spurs' 13 active players saw action in the first half. Bonner didn't score and James Anderson didn't play until late in the fourth quarter. Bonner finished with five points and Anderson with seven. ... The Spurs have had at least a 10-game winning streak during each of the past two seasons. They won 11 straight last year.