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Hornets can't stop Ginobili, fall to Spurs

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Manu Ginobili might want to keep a pad
strapped to his lower back whether he's hurting or not.

Ginobili continued his strong return from a lower back contusion
in late November that caused him to miss four games, scoring 24
points to lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 103-77 victory over the
undermanned New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night.

"He's playing better than he did last season," Spurs coach
Gregg Popovich said. "He's playing like he did the year before. He
feels healthy, he's got his bounce back -- shooting the ball,
driving, making decisions. So he's doing a real good job."

Ginobili scored eight points in the first few minutes of the
game on a pair of 3-pointers and a driving layup as the Spurs ran
out to a 13-2 lead and never trailed.

He had 24 points before he had played 24 minutes and did not
appear the slightest bit tentative about taking contact.

"Now I'm feeling good. Shots are falling that always helps,"
Ginobili said. "I'm wearing the pad because I'm a little worried.
I don't want to get hit there again. It's more prevention than I
really need it, but I feel more comfortable. Sometimes when I draw
a charge I feel more comfortable when I land, so I'm going to wear
it for a while."

Tony Parker added 19 points and used pressure in the back court
to slow down Hornets guard Chris Paul, who finished with six
points, 12.8 below his average coming in. Tim Duncan had 11 points
and nine rebounds for the Spurs.

The Hornets (10-11) dressed only 10 players and were no match
for the Southwest Division leading Spurs (18-6), who led 75-55 in
the third quarter after Brent Barry's driving floater went in off
the glass as he was fouled.

The New Orleans crowd had little to cheer about in the second
half, other than when the scoreboard video screen showed Saints
running back Deuce McAllister in the audience. That drew howls of
"Deuce" and a standing ovation.

The Spurs won their third game in a row and seventh out of
eight. They outshot the Hornets 50 percent to 40.5 percent,
dominating in the paint with 52 points to 38 for New Orleans.

Rasual Butler scored 17 points for the Hornets, while Desmond
Mason added 16 points and nine rebounds. Paul had 12 assists and
spent the fourth quarter on the bench.

New Orleans coach Byron Scott said his team gave a good effort,
but had little chance of winning going in.

"The San Antonio Spurs are one of the best teams in this
league, if not the best," Scott said. "You've got to play nearly
perfect basketball to beat them. They're not going to beat
themselves.

"In the long run, this is going to help us. It will probably
toughen us up a little bit more. ... It's good that this is
happening early."

After San Antonio jumped out to a quick 11-point lead, New
Orleans got as close as 25-20 on Linton Johnson's turnaround jumper
from 13 feet.

Soon after, San Antonio went ahead 38-28 on Michael Finley's
3-pointer and kept a double-digit lead through most of the second
quarter. The Spurs led 53-42 at halftime.

Game notes
The game was the second in New Orleans this season. Unlike
the first, it was not a sellout. Attendance was announced at
15,140, about 3,000 below capacity. ... The Hornets host Dallas in
New Orleans on Saturday, the third of six scheduled games in the
city this season. ... Hornets starting center Tyson Chandler missed
the game with flu-like symptoms. New Orleans starters David West
(elbow) and Peja Stojakovic (back spasms) have been out for several
weeks and the Hornets' top reserve, Bobby Jackson (cracked rib) has
been out for six games. ... San Antonio has won eight of its last
nine meetings with the Hornets.