MINNEAPOLIS -- Every season the San Antonio Spurs start off a little bit slow, leaving many to wonder if the four-time champions have finally run out of steam.
They never really do, of course. It just takes a little bit longer these days for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the Spurs to get the engine revved up.
Parker didn't have another 55-point night in him, so his Spurs relied on their defense to notch their fifth straight victory, 98-86 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
"Usually it takes us a while," coach Gregg Popovich said. "It usually takes us into March and April before we're really ready to go. I think we're on the right track for sure."
In his first game back at Target Center since that career night on Nov. 5 that also included 10 assists, Parker managed 17 points and nine assists.
"I still had that in my head, that Tony Parker scored 55 here," said Wolves guard Randy Foye, who had 19 points and six assists. "I wasn't as aggressive going to the basket and stuff because I was trying to focus on containing him."
But this is a different team than the 0-3 Spurs that limped into Target Center more than a month ago without Manu Ginobili and that trademark nasty defense that has won them four titles in the last 10 years.
Duncan had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Ginobili added 16 points for the Spurs, who have their defensive mojo back and are rounding into form.
Al Jefferson had 29 points and 13 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost eight in a row and three straight since Kevin McHale took over as coach on Monday.
"There are times when it's tough out there, man," McHale said. "Anybody's who has played a lot of years knows that it gets tough. You've got to work your way through it. That's what I keep on telling them."
After some uncharacteristically poor efforts to start the season, the Spurs have held 16 of their last 18 opponents under 100 points. Only twice in the last seven games has a team broken 90.
Parker was sensational the last time he was in this building, hitting a 20-footer at the buzzer to force a second overtime in a game that San Antonio eventually squeaked out for its first victory of the season.
McHale said Thursday that "it took a superhuman performance by Tony for those guys to win that game. Hopefully [Friday night] he'll just be a normal human."
Parker was just that, but it didn't matter for a Wolves team that let missed layups and free throws distract them on the defensive end.
"You can't get much better than layups and we were missing them," McHale said. "Some of those will go in, but the hanging the head is what we can't have and that's what happened. I think we started feeling sorry for ourselves ... and that's unacceptable."
Parker was held scoreless in the first half and didn't get his first field goal until there were 11 minutes to play in the game. But that got him going in a hurry, just in time to dust off the reeling Wolves.
The Spurs led by eight points going into the fourth, and Parker scored San Antonio's first eight points of the period to take control. He scored 16 points in the quarter, two nights after the Wolves gave up 33 points in the third period to Carmelo Anthony in a loss to the Nuggets.
"I was trying to not think about it too much," Parker said. "So, that's why in the first half I was trying to get everybody involved and make sure I am not forcing it. I was expecting good defense from them. In the second half, I tried to be aggressive and finish them off."
Mike Miller played after missing four games with a sprained right ankle. Miller attempted just one shot in the first half and finished with three points in 33 minutes. ... The Timberwolves welcomed back Tony Campbell, fifth on the team's career scoring list. ... The Spurs had five players in double figures, including 12 points and seven rebounds from Michael Finley.