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Spurs halt Hornets’ winning streak

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The San Antonio Spurs have yet to hit their stride this season, thanks to injuries that have forced coach Gregg Popovich to use 23 different starting lineups already.

But things are slowly starting to come together for the defending NBA champions.

They took another step in the right direction Wednesday night by snapping the Charlotte Hornets’ five-game winning streak with a 98-93 victory.

Guard Manu Ginobili came off the bench to score 27 points and made several key plays down the stretch, as the Spurs held on after leading by as many as 16 in the first half.

“Nothing seems to be easy for us this year, but it’s all right,” Ginobili said. “We are playing a lot of close games. We are learning from it, and today things were a little better. We were executing a little better, less turnovers. We didn’t play bad. We’re just not sharp enough yet without all our guys. But we’re going to get there. So this was a good win.”

The Spurs (24-16) have won five of their last seven, after going through a stretch where they lost seven of nine.

“It was another tough one tonight,” said forward Tim Duncan, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “It seems like we’re still not able to close games out the way we want to and pull away from people. But we made enough plays to win the game, and that’s what we need right now, to start to string them together.”

The Spurs were without forward Kawhi Leonard (bruised right hand) and guard Marco Belinelli (strained right groin) again, and they continue to work guard Tony Parker back into form.

“It’s been a grind,” Duncan said. “We’ve had a heckuva schedule, especially in December. There are no nights off right now. There are no nights off ever, but there are really no nights off right now. Every team we see in the West is a big-time challenge for us; and, with us dealing with a lot of injuries and lineup changes and everything else, we’re just trying to string some together. We’re trying to find ways to feel good about ourselves and get a rhythm and just find ways to win games right now.”

Ginobili was magnificent down the stretch.

The Spurs watched a 16-point second-quarter lead dwindle all the way to 86-85 entering the final five minutes, and that’s when the 13-year veteran took over. He hit a jumper and a 3-pointer on San Antonio’s next two possessions for a 91-85 lead with 3:22 remaining, and the Spurs pushed the lead back to as many as eight from there.

Ginobili finished 10 of 14 from the field and hit three 3-pointers.

“He is a good player,” Popovich said. “He played really good in the fourth quarter.”

“Sometimes it goes my way, sometimes mistakes happens,” Ginobili said. “At the end of games I have the opportunities to have the ball in my hand a lot of times. Sometimes it’s not that easy, but today I hit some shots and made better decisions. I needed a game like this.”

The Spurs also got 18 points from guard Danny Green and 10 from Parker.

The Hornets (15-25) were looking for their first six-game winning streak since the 2009-10 season.

They got 28 points from guard Kemba Walker and 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots from center Bismack Biyombo, but they shot just 38.4 percent and were constantly battling from behind.

“The story of the game was our second-quarter defense,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We lost our intensity and purpose. We made a ton of mistakes on defense, and they made us play. In the second half we came out and our defense was a lot better; but, against a team like that, you can’t have a stretch where you play five minutes of no defense. To me, that was the game.”

NOTES: The Hornets got G Lance Stephenson back after he missed the previous 14 games with a pelvic strain. But they were without C Al Jefferson (strained left groin), G Jannero Pargo (low back soreness) and G Gary Neal (right hamstring soreness). … This was the first of two meetings between the teams this season. San Antonio has won eight straight in the series. The teams will meet again in San Antonio on Jan. 28. … The Spurs were closing out a three-game road trip that began with a win at Minnesota on Saturday and a loss at Washington on Tuesday. … With 11 points and 12 rebounds in the loss at Washington, Spurs F Tim Duncan moved ahead of Karl Malone and into fifth place on the NBA’s career double-double list with 815. He tacked on No. 816 on Wednesday. … The Hornets were opening a four-game homestand. They will host Indiana on Saturday. … The Spurs will return home to face Portland on Friday.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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