Spurs beat Hornets behind Parker for 3rd straight

Associated Press Writer

SAN ANTONIO (AP) By the standards of this underachieving season for the San Antonio Spurs, coach Gregg Popovich said even back-to-back wins is something of an accomplishment.

Don’t look now, but the Spurs have won three straight.

Tony Parker scored 20 points and the Spurs extended their longest winning streak in nearly two months, beating New Orleans 102-91 on Friday night to sweep the season series from the Hornets for the second time in four seasons.

Popovich said Parker likely won’t fully recover from a nagging ankle and sore hip until this summer, and that his point guard is in no shape to play 38 minutes. But Parker did play 30 against the Hornets, shooting 8 of 12 of the floor and handing out six assists.

“It’s a real double-edge sword,” Popovich said. “He’s got to work to get in shape, but at the same time, he can’t exacerbate the ankle or the hip situation.”

Manu Ginobili had 16 points and Keith Bogans scored 15 for the Spurs. San Antonio is on its longest winning streak since January and turn around Saturday to face Memphis, which are also trying to catch the Spurs for a playoff spot.

New Orleans, meanwhile, keeps tumbling from the playoff picture.

Rookie Darren Collison had 32 points for the Hornets, including 16 in the fourth quarter. But the Hornets still dropped their fourth straight, their longest skid of the season.

“These last four games that we’ve been losing has nothing to do with our offense. It has everything to do with our defense,” Collison said. “I thought our effort was there today, I just thought they hit some shots.”

Collison had his second 30-night game in four games, and didn’t miss any of his seven shots in the fourth quarter.

Marcus Thornton had 18 points for the Hornets, but left in the fourth after taking a hard fall. He was diagnosed with an upper back strain and did not return, and was to be re-evaluated Saturday.

Losing for the sixth time in seven games, the Hornets (31-32) fell under .500 for the first time since Jan. 2 and fell 5 1/2 games behind Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Climbing back won’t be easy. Still stuck without Chris Paul – who has watched his team go 6-11 since injuring his left knee – the Hornets have only seven of their remaining 19 games against losing teams.

David West had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Hornets.

“I just don’t think we’re in a rhythm as a team,” West said. “These games are being decided in three or four minute stretches. In those stretches we just have to play better.”

Tim Duncan had 12 points and rookie DeJuan Blair had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, who had all their starters in double figures. Matt Bonner added another 12 off the bench.

Like the Hornets, the Spurs can relate to a tough final stretch: 17 of their remaining 23 are against winning teams, and San Antonio has just eight left at home. But the Spurs are also trying to balance resting Duncan for the playoffs while trying to ensure they’ll make it there.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game that March is a month where if they can find Duncan some rest, “they’ll do it.” Unexpectedly, the 33-year-old has held up much better than Parker.

So has Ginobili, who Popovich said has seemed to gotten some of his old lift and quickness back.

Ginobili agrees.

“I feel like I can outsmart players and the shots are finally falling a little more,” Ginobili said. “Honestly, I can’t complain right now. I’m feeling good.”

NOTES: Thornton set the Hornets rookie record for 3-pointers in a season with 82, besting J.R. Smith’s former mark of 81. … The Spurs still have more than a week to bring their roster to the NBA-minimum 13 players after waiving Michael Finley, who signed with Boston on Friday.