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Spurs tie franchise mark with 17th straight win

The SportsXchange

SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday that losing a basketball game might not be the worst thing for his team as the NBA playoffs approach.

He theorized that it might be the best way to get players to work on any deficiencies they might have developed while stockpiling some easy victories.

Popovich will have to wait for an opportunity to grab his players' attention after the Spurs defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 96-80 on Saturday night for their 17th straight victory.

The winning streak matches the franchise record set in 1995-96. The Spurs' next game is at Indiana on Monday.

"It's sweet to be part of that," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said of the streak. "Not something that happens very often. You can have a bad game, or your opponent has a great one. We've played really well, and we are healthy."

Guard Marco Belinelli led the Spurs with 18 points. Ginobili and forward Kawhi Leonard scored 15 apiece.

Guard Brian Roberts, back after missing two games with a knee injury, led New Orleans with 18 points. Guard Austin Rivers scored 16.

New Orleans (32-41), which had a five-game winning streak snapped, played without starting forward Anthony Davis, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding and the NBA in blocked shots. Davis suffered an injured left ankle early in the Pelicans' win against Utah on Friday. Coach Monty Williams said Davis' status will be determined on a day-to-day basis.

San Antonio (57-16) was without two starters. Center Tiago Splitter had the night off and guard Danny Green missed his second straight game with a foot injury. Green also is listed as day to day.

Belinelli started both games that Green missed. Belinelli scored 27 points at Denver on Friday, converting 10 of 15 shots from the field, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. On Saturday, Belinelli was 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and 7 of 11 from the floor. He also had four assists.

"I don't think I've seen any NBA team play at such a high level all year long," Williams said. "The ball movement, team defense, scoring inside, scoring outside, bench play -- they've got it all working. It doesn't matter which lineup."

Belinelli made two 3-pointers in the first quarter, when he scored eight points, helping the Spurs take a 17-point lead in the quarter.

Not a bad fill-in starter.

"He plays a great all-around game," Popovich said. "He's not just a shooter, but he's a good passer. He's maybe one of our two best cutters without the ball. He really understands how to play unselfishly."

The Spurs' winning streak started Feb. 26 -- the day Leonard returned after missing 14 games with a broken shooting hand. San Antonio was 8-6 without him, although other Spurs players missed games as well.

In addition to scoring 15 points, Leonard displayed his value by helping limit New Orleans guard Tyreke Evans to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field. Evans had averaged 20.4 in the previous five games.

"Kawhi's starting to really getting a kick out of being a stopper," Popovich said.

Williams lamented his team's inability to miss shots from close range.

"We competed," Williams said. "We just couldn't finish around the basket. We were 18 for 48 in the paint. We're a team that usually is high when it comes to points in the paint."

NOTES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has won four NBA championships, but he is not averse to learning new things. Popovich said he watches NCAA Tournament games to see what he can steal from other coaches. "There is always something," Popovich said. "Not just necessarily a play. Maybe it's the way they substituted or managed, what kind of a wrinkle they've put into their team defense." ... There are teams with injuries and then there are the New Orleans Pelicans. In addition to losing F Anthony Davis, who suffered an ankle injury on Friday and is listed as day to day, the Pelicans were without G Eric Gordon (knee), G Jrue Holiday (stress fracture right leg), F Ryan Anderson (back) and C Jason Smith (knee). Gordon is listed as day to day. ... The other three are out for the season. Spurs F Matt Bonner missed his fifth straight game with a strained right calf. ... New Orleans G Tyreke Evans averaged 21.4 points in 13 starts before Saturday, 7.4 more than his season average.
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