Spurs win streak hits 9 with win over Bobcats

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich was back from a three-game absence due to illness and feeling pretty good about the San Antonio Spurs’ latest victory.

Tony Parker had 22 points and San Antonio never trailed in beating the Charlotte Bobcats 102-78 on Wednesday night, extending its winning streak to nine games.

The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, Parker had his way with Charlotte’s backcourt. The Spurs All-Star guard had a game-high seven assists and was 9 for 10 from the field.

“He did it again,” Popovich said. “He put it upon himself and he comes up with two big baskets down the stretch. He’s really been special.”

Kawhi Leonard added 18 points, Danny Green had 17 and Tiago Splitter 15 for San Antonio, which has won 17 straight at home.

Ramon Sessions came off the bench to score a team-high 22 points for Charlotte, which has lost five of six. Kemba Walker (16 points) and Ben Gordon (11) were the only other Bobcats in double figures.

The Spurs’ perimeter players attacked the basket aggressively with Tim Duncan (sore left knee) and DeJuan Blair (fluid in right knee) missing the game, outscoring the Bobcats 48-24 in the paint.

“Basically, just bring energy,” Leonard said of the team’s strategy. “We wanted all of our guards to crash the boards tonight and get about five or more rebounds from our guards. We just wanted to keep our energy and pace up in the game.”

San Antonio set up Charlotte inside by going 9 for 16 on 3s (56 percent) and shooting 55 percent from the field.

“We just tried to move the ball and take good shots,” Parker said. “Tonight, it worked for me.”

Leonard opened the scoring by hitting his first three shots, including back-to-back 3s that put San Antonio up 11-4 with 8 minutes left in the first. Charlotte battled back over the next 4 minutes behind an aggressive defense, forcing two missed shots and four turnovers in an 8-2 run.

The Bobcats pulled within 25-23 at the close of the first quarter on Walker’s 19-foot jumper, but Manu Ginobili sparked the Spurs in the second.

Ginobili had four points, two rebounds and an assist on Leonard’s 3 in the opening 2 minutes of the second quarter as San Antonio extended its lead to 32-23. Ginobili finished with nine points, six assists and five rebounds in 21 minutes.

Parker had seven points and five assists in the third quarter as San Antonio raised its home record to 21-2 this season.

“He’s really playing at an All-Star level for us,” Green said. “We need that especially with the guys we have out. With Tim being out, him and Manu have done a great job of carrying us, putting us on their back.”

The Bobcats were able to cut the lead to 11 early in the fourth, but could get no closer as the Spurs’ lead swelled to 24 in the final quarter.

Charlotte was 30 for 73 overall from the field (41 percent) while committing 23 turnovers.

“They took care of business,” Gordon said. “In the second half, they just put us away. They were real sharp with everything they did. They capitalized on all our mistakes.”

Leading by double digits throughout the second half, the Spurs spent much of the second half trying to set up the newest Spurs, Australian Aron Baynes. After playing 42 seconds in his NBA debut Friday at Dallas, Baynes had seven points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes against Charlotte. He was 3 for 7, missing a couple of tip-in follows.

“Baynes was good,” Parker said. “It’s not easy to come in the middle of the season. We’re rolling and playing good and he came out with a lot of energy; banging, rebounding and setting some good picks.”

The Bobcats bench did outscore San Antonio’s 44-22.

NOTES: Leonard was selected to play in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on Feb. 15 during the NBA All-Star weekend in Houston. It marks a return appearance for the second-year player to the game that features many of the league’s top rookie and second-year players. … Duncan has missed four straight games with an injury. . Blair missed his 14th game of the season. … Bobcats P Byron Mullens (ankle sprain) missed his 17th game. Mullens has played 27 games this season, starting 26. … Charlotte is 2-15 overall against San Antonio. … The Bobcats are 0-2 with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Adrien, Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson and Walker as their starting lineup. … Parker has led the Spurs in scoring in six of their last nine games and in assists in nine straight.