Spurs 102, Hornets 91

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.