San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has challenged Tony Parker to become a franchise player, and the veteran point guard has played like it with Tim Duncan out with a knee injury.
Popovich will be back on the sidelines for the first time in four games, but Duncan's return is questionable as the NBA-leading Spurs go for a ninth straight win and 17th in a row at home Wednesday night against the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats.
Parker was a crucial part to the Spurs' title runs in 2003, '05 and '07, and was just named an All-Star for the fifth time, but playing next to Duncan for his entire 12-year career has hurt his value in terms of how some outside the organization view him.
It's a different story inside San Antonio's locker room.
"He is unbelievable," teammate Manu Ginobili said after Parker scored 11 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 108-99 victory over Phoenix. "... He is in that point of his career where he is so confident. He is doing so good that he can relax a little bit in the first half then when we need him, he starts making those jumpers and takes over."
Parker, the Western Conference player of the week, has taken over with Duncan out the last three games, shooting 62.7 percent and averaging 26.0 points and 10.0 assists. He's scored 20 or more in six consecutive games for the first time in four seasons.
"Over the last few years it is becoming my team and coach Pop is always challenging me to become the franchise player who closes games and makes good decisions with the ball offensively for myself and my teammates," Parker said. "I always take to heart Pop's challenges."
Popovich has been away from the team due to an illness, and he'll be back as San Antonio (36-11) tries to win nine in a row for the first time since finishing last season with 10 straight victories.
The Spurs, a league-best 20-2 at home, are riding their longest winning streak on their own court since a franchise-record 22-game run two seasons ago.
That doesn't bode well for a Charlotte team that's dropped nine of 11 overall, including Monday's 93-85 loss in Chicago, and five straight at San Antonio by an average of 18.8 points.
The Bobcats (11-33) have lost the last two in this series by 30 points: 102-72 at San Antonio on March 2 and 132-102 at home Dec. 8.
Led by Danny Green's career high-tying seven 3-pointers and 23 points, San Antonio hit a then-team-record 19 3s in last month's matchup.
Parker shot 10 of 12 and finished with 22 points and seven assists in that game as Charlotte surrendered the third-most points - and most at home - in franchise history.
Bobcats guard Kemba Walker, the team leader with 17.9 points per game, scored 23 while hitting half of the team's six 3s.
San Antonio, 14-2 all-time against Charlotte, faces Washington on Saturday in its final home game before a nine-game road stretch that bridges the All-Star break.