San Antonio 97, Houston 88

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HOUSTON (TICKER) —The San Antonio Spurs are receiving contributions from lots of sources as they continue to tear up the NBA.

Rookie Emanuel Ginobili scored a season-high 20 points to lead a balanced effort as the Spurs defeated the Houston Rockets, 97-88, for their 13th victory in 14 games.

“Manu has been working hard all year,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s had it tough because he missed training camp (with a right ankle injury). He plays defense, makes steals, gets loose balls. There’s more there. He’s a special player.”

“I’m just happy I really helped,” Ginobili said. “I began to feel healthy after the All-Star break.”

Tim Duncan added 17 points, Tony Parker and Malik Rose had 16 apiece and David Robinson 14 and 10 rebounds for San Antonio, which has won four in a row and nine of its last 10 road contests.

“Manu was great, all over the floor,” Duncan said. “We called it before the game. We were on Telemundo and Gino is the only who can speak Spanish on the team, and we gave him the ball and told him to go.”

Ginobili missed his first shot, a 3-pointer, then shot 6-of-6 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line the rest of the game.

“The ball went in,” Ginobili said. “I made my free throws. It was a good day for shooting.”

“He’s a fiery guy, very talented,” Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. “He attacks the game with a passion. He has a lot of tools that you didn’t see a lot early because of the injuries.”

Parker scored 10 points and Duncan and Stephen Jackson eight apiece in the first quarter as the Spurs opened a 30-18 lead. San Antonio shot 70 percent (14-of-20) in the opening 12 minutes and limited Houston to 36 percent (8-of-22).

San Antonio held a 12-point advantage at the half and by as many as 22 points early in the third quarter. The bulge was 17 midway through the fourth before Houston made a late run, pulling within 94-88 on a 3-pointer by Glen Rice with 52 seconds left.

“We’ve got to do something about our slow starts defensively,” Tomjanovich said. “We got into a comfort zone, and then when it got to the embarrassing stage, we picked it up later on. I expected a completely different game today. What I liked about the game was we didn’t quit, but we can’t just keep waiting until it gets to that point for the life to come back in us.”

“You can’t continue to dig holes for yourself and try to bail yourself out,” Rice said. “That has to change. You spend too much energy, especially at this time (of the season).”

With the loss, Houston fell one game behind Phoenix for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Steve Francis collected 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists before fouling out in the final minute and Rice added 19 points for the Rockets, who lost for the ninth time in 13 contests.

“I think our defense has kind of lacked in the last couple of games,” Francis said. “We’ve been falling behind early and trying to dig ourselves out of a hole against a veteran team.

“I just don’t think we are prepared to play at the beginning of the game,” said rookie Yao Ming, who scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. “We have some concerns. Sometimes we are able to thoroughly beat our opponents, but a lot of times it seems like we let the opponent do what they want.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 San Antonio
T. Duncan T. Duncan
7-14,  17 Pts
9 Rebs, 3 Assists
 Houston
S. Francis S. Francis
8-15,  21 Pts
8 Rebs, 8 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists