“His rhythm’s been back. He hasn’t lost it. He’s been going 100 miles an hour since he’s been back,” Duncan said. “I don’t know if he’s been breathing hard here and there, but he’s been looking good.”
It was hard to argue with that on Friday night, when Parker scored early, often and from all over the court in a 27-point effort that led the San Antonio Spurs to a 97-85 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
After Parker spent the summer playing with the French national team, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich took it easy on his star point guard during training camp and let him sit out the first few preseason games. It appears to have worked.
Parker is the only member of the Spurs to score 15 points or more in each of San Antonio’s first six games. He scored a season-high 23 points in San Antonio’s victory over Miami on Wednesday, only to surpass it against Chris Paul in New Orleans two nights later.
“Every time you play one of the best point guards it’s good motivation,” Parker said. “But for me personally, I just try to get back in shape, get back in my rhythm, because I didn’t play a lot in the preseason and it felt great tonight.”
Duncan made 11 of 14 shots to finish with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Manu Ginobili scored 14 and fellow Argentinian Fabricio Oberto added 13 points to help the Spurs maintain a double-digit lead through most of the second half.
“I just got some shots to fall early,” Duncan said. “When you do that, things start feeling a little better and those shots don’t look as daunting as they do when you miss a couple at the beginning.”
After their impressive start to the season, the Hornets looked at their home date with the defending champs as a chance to measure their improvement from last season, when New Orleans was 0-4 against the Spurs.
“The first quarter was pretty good,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “They just don’t take a night off. If you beat them, it’s because you were better than them that night. It’s not because they gave it to you.”
By the third quarter, it became clear that San Antonio still had the Hornets’ number.
The Spurs began to pull away with a 12-2 run led by Ginobili, whose eight points during the surge included a driving scoop shot and a 3-pointer as he was fouled.
Very little was going right for New Orleans, which was struggling even to hit foul shots. The Hornets began turning the ball over as they attempted to force a faster tempo. A particularly demoralizing moment came when Chandler fought for a difficult rebound, only to miss Paul with his outlet pass. Parker ended up with the ball and burst into the lane for a double-clutch reverse layup that made it 64-49.
“We had a hard time executing what we wanted to accomplish out there,” Chandler said. “A good team like that makes you pay for your small mistakes.”
San Antonio was shooting so well there wasn’t much New Orleans could do anyway. The Spurs hit 57.6 percent of their shots through three quarters and led by as much as 21 before taking an 81-63 lead into the final period.
New Orleans, a hot-shooting team through their opening four wins, seemed to have lost their range. They were 4-of-15 shooting on 3-pointers and shot 43.2 percent for the game.
San Antonio also outrebounded New Orleans 42-37
Parker, who also finished with eight assists, scored 11 of San Antonio’s first 21 points, hitting on everything from a driving double-pump scoop in the lane to an open 3-pointer from the corner. He reached 21 points by the end of the second quarter, helping the Spurs erase an early nine-point deficit and go into halftime with a 52-45 lead.
“He’s our guy that gets to the basket,” Duncan said. “He controls the tempo and when he’s going like that it makes everything easy for us.”
Spurs G Brent Barry, who sprained his right ankle diving for a ball during a victory against Miami on Wednesday, did not play. … New Orleans came in having won only four of its last 20 games against San Antonio. … Attendance was 15,297, the largest crowd in three games at New Orleans arena since the Hornets returned full-time from their two-year temporary stay in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina.