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Spurs down Nuggets; Ginobili getting in groove

DENVER (AP) -- Manu Ginobili doesn't want to get used to it, but
he sure is getting good at it.

Coming off the bench again, Ginobili scored 20 points and dished
out a season-best eight assists in leading the San Antonio Spurs
past the Denver Nuggets 98-88 Saturday night.

"I try play the same all the time," said Ginobili, who is
still working his way back from a foot injury. "I'll play hard if
I play five minutes or five seconds. If I start or come off the
bench. I will play hard. I will play tough and I will play
aggressively. I try to get my rhythm going immediately."

So, with Ginobili not starting, the defending NBA champs now
sport the league's best bench. Ginobili played 24 minutes and had
his best performance since returning from an eight-game absence on
Monday night.

He sure impressed teammate Robert Horry, who knows a thing or
two about going from starter to reserve.

"You have to get into the right mindset. It took me forever
when I first started coming off the bench," Horry said. "You have
to learn how to stay loose and stay warm. It was tough for me at
first. You become used to it. Just like old hat after a while."

Horry showed that Saturday night, scoring 10 points off the
bench, including back-to-back 3-pointers in the decisive
third-quarter run that put San Antonio ahead for good.

Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 25 points, helping the Spurs
survive a tough night by Tony Parker, who was limited to six points
and six assists as the Nuggets stopped his penetrations time and
time again.

Behind Kenyon Martin's 12 boards, the Nuggets also outrebounded
the taller Spurs 49-39, but while they found their elusive
defensive rhythm, their offense left them as they shot just 34
percent from the floor and turned the ball over 16 times while
scoring their fewest points at home all season.

"That's what happens when you're struggling," Denver coach
George Karl said. "We did a great job on Parker. Kenyon and our
bigs did a great job battling and competing in the paint. Best
rebounding game we've had in a long time. And someone told me we
missed over 20 layups and we made free throws when it didn't count.
We didn't make free throws when it did count. And when we had it in
reach in the fourth quarter, he had some unforced turnovers."

Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for the Nuggets, who have lost
four of their last five at the Pepsi Center and seven of nine
overall. They're a season-worst three games under .500.

Exemplifying their frustrations was Martin, who had his first
double-double of the year but drew a technical foul for hollering
an expletive at official Greg Willard, who whistled him for a foul
when he slapped the ball away from Duncan with 1:27 remaining.

Nothing seems to be going right for Denver.

"We thought this was a time we could get well. Come home, got
six straight home games. It's very frustrating," Martin said.

Denver led 45-41 after a sloppy first half in which the Nuggets
shot 33 percent and the Spurs 37 percent, but Ginobili scored six
points in a run the Spurs used to take a 61-57 lead in the third
quarter.

Then, Horry came off the bench and provided the Spurs with a big
spark by sinking consecutive 3-pointers after drawing a charge from
Anthony and just like that San Antonio had a 10-point lead at
69-59.

Karl said fatigue was becoming a factor for his team, which has
been beset by injuries all season, particularly in the frontcourt.
The Nuggets lost Nene to a season-ending knee injury in the opener
and center Marcus Camby, the league's leading rebounder,
indefinitely after he underwent surgery to fix a broken right
pinkie earlier in the week.

"Mentally, we're pretty fragile," Karl said. "If we rebound
and defend with the attitude we had tonight against some weaker
teams, I think we have a chance to get out of this funk and get
moving in a good direction.

"Nene and Marcus's injuries and the bangs and bruises that
we've had have got us a little frustrated, but we're not that far
away from turning the corner."

Duncan concurred: "Kenyon can't play his regular minutes. Camby
is out. I think they will be fine down the stretch."

The Spurs are fine right now, even -- or especially -- with
Ginobili coming off the bench.

Game notes
The Nuggets have lost six straight to the Spurs, counting
last season's playoff series. ... Denver shot a season-low 34
percent.