SAN ANTONIO, March 14 (Ticker) -- Tony Parker set the tone to help the San Antonio Spurs make a little history.

Parker scored 20 points and handed out 11 assists as the Spurs built an early lead and cruised to a 96-81 victory over the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, who have dropped seven straight games.

NBA TV highlights from
Hornets-Spurs:
Play
With the win, the defending NBA champion Spurs (50-14) posted their fastest 50-win season in franchise history and clinched their ninth straight playoff berth, the longest current streak of any team. They captured the season series over the Hornets, 3-1.

"Tony Parker played an aggressive game and set the tone for us tonight," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Tony had his juice back tonight. He looked like the Tony tonight like he's looked all year long. That's important for us, obviously."

"Tony was great tonight and as solid as he has been all season," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "The Hornets shot the ball better than we would have liked them to tonight, but overall this was a good win."

Behind Parker's 15 first-half points, San Antonio built a 57-44 lead. Parker's layup started a 15-5 run that closed the half, which was capped by Brent Barry's 3-pointer.

"A lot of different guys have been stepping up for us lately and tonight was no different," Duncan said. "Brent has played well the last 10 games or so."

"I'm getting more time on the floor like this evening and that helps to find a rhythm out there," Barry said. "We need to start ramping things up as a team right now. We need to get some rest over the next couple of days to get ready for Phoenix on Friday."

Holding a comfortable 79-65 advantage entering the final period, the Spurs went cold, allowing the Hornets to creep within 79-72 on Rasual Butler's jumper with 7:73 to go. Nazr Mohammed's two free throws and jumper and Bruce Bowen's layup rebuilt the lead to 85-72, and San Antonio cruised thereafter.

"There were stretches throughout the game where they scored easy buckets," Mohammed said. "It is the end of the season, but we can still improve on some things. They shot a good percentage, especially in the first half, but it is all about getting wins, and we got the win tonight."

Parker made 8-of-16 shots and had a season-high four steals. Fellow All-Star Duncan had 17 points and eight rebounds and Barry scored 16 points, draining all four shots from behind the arc.

"It was one of those nights where our play wasn't all that sharp, but you have nights like that," Barry said. "We got contributions from other guys and the bench stepped up. We needed this win to help keep pace."

Rookie Chris Paul and Marc Jackson scored 16 points apiece for the Hornets (31-32), who dropped under .500 for the first time since January 28. David West and Speedy Claxton each contributed 14 points.

"We should have won this," Jackson said. "We should have won the last few games. When you get punctured and open a wound, you have to stop the bleeding. It's tough, but adversity can bring a team together. Like a boxer, you have to dig in and keep coming forward. You can't get on your heels."

"I thought we came out better than we have the last five or six games," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "It just seems like in the last two or three minutes of each quarter, they hurt us. The Spurs are a championship team and they can really buckle down on you defensively during those stretches. The one thing I want more than anything right now is to compete and I felt like we did that tonight."

Hornets forward Desmond Mason left the game just 50 seconds into the first quarter with a bruised left knee. He did not return and his status for Friday's game against the Nuggets is unknown.