NEW ORLEANS -- Manu Ginobili might want to keep a pad strapped to his lower back whether he's hurting or not.
Ginobili continued his strong return from a lower back contusion in late November that caused him to miss four games, scoring 24 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 103-77 victory over the undermanned New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night.
"He's playing better than he did last season," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's playing like he did the year before. He feels healthy, he's got his bounce back - shooting the ball, driving, making decisions. So he's doing a real good job."
Ginobili scored eight points in the first few minutes of the game on a pair of 3-pointers and a driving layup as the Spurs ran out to a 13-2 lead and never trailed.
He had 24 points before he had played 24 minutes and did not appear the slightest bit tentative about taking contact.
"Now I'm feeling good. Shots are falling that always helps," Ginobili said. "I'm wearing the pad because I'm a little worried. I don't want to get hit there again. It's more prevention than I really need it, but I feel more comfortable. Sometimes when I draw a charge I feel more comfortable when I land, so I'm going to wear it for a while."
Tony Parker added 19 points and used pressure in the back court to slow down Hornets guard Chris Paul, who finished with six points, 12.8 below his average coming in. Tim Duncan had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs.
The Hornets (10-11) dressed only 10 players and were no match for the Southwest Division leading Spurs (18-6), who led 75-55 in the third quarter after Brent Barry's driving floater went in off the glass as he was fouled.
The New Orleans crowd had little to cheer about in the second half, other than when the scoreboard video screen showed Saints running back Deuce McAllister in the audience. That drew howls of "Deuce" and a standing ovation.
The Spurs won their third game in a row and seventh out of eight. They outshot the Hornets 50 percent to 40.5 percent, dominating in the paint with 52 points to 38 for New Orleans.
New Orleans coach Byron Scott said his team gave a good effort, but had little chance of winning going in.
"The San Antonio Spurs are one of the best teams in this league, if not the best," Scott said. "You've got to play nearly perfect basketball to beat them. They're not going to beat themselves.
"In the long run, this is going to help us. It will probably toughen us up a little bit more. ... It's good that this is happening early."
After San Antonio jumped out to a quick 11-point lead, New Orleans got as close as 25-20 on Linton Johnson's turnaround jumper from 13 feet.
Soon after, San Antonio went ahead 38-28 on Michael Finley's 3-pointer and kept a double-digit lead through most of the second quarter. The Spurs led 53-42 at halftime.
|Tony Parker and the Spurs show why they're three-time champs and the Hornets aren't. (Getty Images)|
|San Antonio (18-6) «||29||24||32||18||103|
|NO/Okla. City (10-11)||22||20||20||15||77|
|SA:M. Ginobili 24 Pts
SA:T. Duncan 9 Reb
SA:T. Parker 8 Ast
|NO:R. Butler 17 Pts
NO:D. Mason 9 Reb
NO:C. Paul 12 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|New Orleans||San Antonio|
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|T. Parker, PG||31||9-15||1-2||3||8||2||19|
|M. Ginobili, SG||27||8-16||5-5||3||6||1||24|
|F. Elson, C||26||1-3||2-2||7||2||3||4|
|T. Duncan, PF||24||4-7||3-6||9||4||3||11|
|B. Bowen, SF||21||1-2||0-0||3||1||2||3|
|M. Finley, SG||23||2-7||2-2||1||1||1||7|
|B. Udrih, PG||22||4-9||1-2||2||0||0||10|
|M. Bonner, PF||21||4-6||0-0||5||0||0||9|
|F. Oberto, PF||17||3-5||1-2||7||1||5||7|
|B. Barry, SG||16||2-6||1-1||1||1||0||5|
|J. Butler, C||7||2-3||0-0||2||0||2||4|
|J. Vaughn, PG||5||0-1||0-0||1||2||0||0|
|R. Horry, PF||Did Not Play|
|E. Williams, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. White, G||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|C. Paul, PG||36||2-11||2-2||4||12||1||6|
|R. Butler, SF||32||8-11||0-0||4||0||3||17|
|D. Mason, SF||31||6-11||4-5||9||1||2||16|
|M. Jackson, PF||26||4-10||0-2||1||1||1||8|
|C. Simmons, PF||16||3-7||1-2||1||0||2||7|
|J. Pargo, PG||32||4-14||0-0||1||1||1||9|
|L. Johnson, SF||24||3-6||2-2||3||1||1||8|
|H. Armstrong, C||24||1-7||2-4||6||0||4||4|
|B. Bass, PF||12||1-2||0-0||4||0||1||2|
|M. Vinicius, SF||7||0-0||0-0||0||1||0||0|
|B. Jackson, PG||Did Not Play|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Chandler, C||Did Not Play|
|D. West, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|