Spurs 112, Magic 100
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
Manu Ginobili will be a free agent this summer.
His price might be going up by the game.
Ginobili scored a season-high 43 points, his fourth 30-plus game since replacing Tony Parker in the starting lineup last month, and the San Antonio Spurs completed a weeklong sweep of the Eastern Conference's three division leaders with a 112-100 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.
``We put three different guys on him,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``Nobody could stop him.''
Tim Duncan had 23 points and the Spurs temporarily pulled themselves out of the last playoff seed in the West, where San Antonio is bunched up with Portland and Oklahoma City in a race to avoid the No. 8 spot.
Eighth means a likely first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, who San Antonio will get next Sunday. But the rejuvenated Spurs aren't withering lately against the NBA's best like they were earlier in this underachieving season.
Orlando was the third division leader the Spurs knocked off in the past seven days. It started with a home win over Cleveland, followed by a blowout in Boston.
The Spurs have yet to clinch a playoff berth, but with seven games left and a seven-game lead over Memphis, they inched closer.
``We couldn't beat anybody the first 40, 50 games of the good (teams),'' Ginobili said. ``I'm very glad we started doing it. It's better late than not doing it at all.''
Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus had 18 apiece for the Magic, whose three-game winning streak ended in Texas one night after beating Dallas. Dwight Howard had 10 points and six rebounds, but hit just 2-of-11 free throws as the Spurs fouled him at every opportunity down the stretch.
Howard said he was frustrated by the Hack-a-Howard game plan.
``My mind wasn't on the free throws. It was on the coach for the intentional fouls,'' Howard said. ``Really upset about that.''
Howard was 2 of 6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. One fan behind the Magic bench who heckled Howard to ``Work on your free throws!'' was removed from the arena after Howard said he continued to shout as other Magic players told the man to calm down.
``Sometimes people can take it too far,'' Howard said. ``It's a great thing to have fans come to the game, but once you attack somebody personally, guys sometimes take that serious, especially after a frustrating night.''
Howard's night ended by fouling out with 3:06 remaining.
Fittingly, it was Ginobili who drew the foul.
He then stepped up and sank two of his 14 free throws, having missed just three on the night. When Ginobili hit his last two foul shots with 49 seconds remaining, a chant of ``M-V-P!'' swept through the AT&T Center.
For the Spurs? Without question.
It looked bleak for already-underachieving San Antonio when Parker broke his right hand March 6, but Ginobili has carried the Spurs to a 10-5 record without their starting point guard.
Matt Bonner added 15 points for the Spurs. Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick had 15 apiece for Orlando.
The Spurs avenged a 26-point loss to Orlando on March 17 that was their worst of the season. Duncan had five points in that loss and was 1 for 10 from the field, the worst shooting percentage game of his career.
``Everybody in the league has frustrated nights,'' Van Gundy said. ``I saw Tim Duncan after 12 years have one of those frustrated nights against us in Orlando, so let's not pretend it's just Dwight. I saw one of the calmest guys in the league have a very frustrated night and do nothing but complain when he was in Orlando. It happens to everybody.''
Duncan took a seat early after being whistled for three fouls in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the game. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn't last much longer.
Official Tony Brown ejected him just before halftime while Popovich - who picked up his first technical arguing Duncan's early fouls - protested that Ginobili deserved a foul shot after being bumped by Howard on a jumper.
But Ginobili hardly needed help finding ways to score.
By midway through the third quarter, Ginobili already had nearly half of San Antonio's 70 points. The Spurs call it ``Manu being Manu'' - drawing a foul on 3-pointers, pulling up for jumpers and recklessly barreling toward the basket.
Manu has been Manu a lot lately.
Since being thrust into the starting lineup 14 games ago, Ginobili is averaging 25 points - about 11 better than what he gave the Spurs each night before Parker's injury.
Ginobili's resurgence is likely benefiting him as much as the Spurs. The 32-year-old will be a free agent this summer and is proving he's still one of the league's most dynamic guards after injuries slowed him down the past couple years.
Ginobili was 13 of 25 from the field and hit three 3-pointers.
NOTES: Ginobili's last 40-point game was Feb. 21, 2008, when he scored 44 in a win over Minnesota. ... Popovich said before the game that Parker is still on track to return as early as the final week of the regular season.