By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
January 7, 2013

Over the past two NBA seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have dominated their matchups with the New Orleans Hornets from a purely bottom-line standpoint, winning each of the six head-to-head meetings. A closer examination of recent Hornets-Spurs contests, however, shows that the series has been much more competitive than that 6-0 tally might indicate. In four of those encounters, the Hornets have lost by a margin of five points or less.

New Orleans opened the 2012-13 regular season with a heartbreaking 99-95 home loss on Halloween to San Antonio. The Hornets led late in the fourth quarter, before the Spurs made several clutch shots in the final two minutes. On Dec. 21 in the Alamo City, San Antonio prevailed by a nearly identical score, posting a 99-94 triumph. New Orleans trailed 54-42 at halftime, but surged back into the hunt in the fourth quarter.

During the 2011-12 regular season, both Hornets home games against the Spurs went down to the final minute, but the visitors eked out 104-102 and 89-86 victories. Monday’s home tilt against San Antonio commences a three-game homestand for New Orleans, which will also entertain Western Conference playoff contenders Houston and Minnesota later this week on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

Facing one of the players he’s sometimes compared to, future Hall of Fame power forward Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis has led the Hornets in scoring twice against the Spurs this season. He posted a team-best 21 points in his NBA debut on Oct. 31, followed by an 18-point showing in the Dec. 21 game. Ryan Anderson was the only other New Orleans player to reach double digits in scoring in both San Antonio games, though the Spurs held Anderson to 8-for-25 shooting from the field (3-for-12 from three-point range).

Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez vs. Tony Parker
A meeting of two international players could go a long way in determining if the Hornets can bring an end to their losing streak vs. the Spurs. Parker has thrived in the two previous games this season, racking up a total of 48 points on 19-for-36 field-goal shooting. Though not known for his perimeter shot, the native of France drilled a three-pointer with 49 seconds remaining on Oct. 31 that gave the Spurs a 97-95 edge. Venezuela native Vasquez dished out 13 assists in that Oct. 31 game.

The NBA’s most consistently successful franchise over the past 20 years, the Spurs continue to put together excellent records, having won at least 50 games in every full season since 1997-98. San Antonio charged out of the gate in 2012-13 by winning 26 of its first 35 games, a record that put the Spurs in the conversation for best team in the Western Conference. The formula remains essentially unchanged for the Spurs, with the vaunted trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili leading the way, but surrounded by numerous effective role players.

What’s new
Not a whole lot. The Spurs’ 12 leading scorers were members of last season’s club that reached the Western Conference finals, before being eliminated by Oklahoma City four games to two. Reserve guard and newcomer Nando De Colo ranks 13th on San Antonio’s scoring list.

Star player
A legitimate league MVP candidate last season, Parker has taken over from Duncan as San Antonio’s top point producer and most important player. The 12th-year pro – who was once married to star actress Eva Longoria – is extremely effective at driving into the paint and scoring on crafty layups and scoop shots. Parker’s outside shot has often been deemed a weakness, but he appears to have improved in that category as well, shooting over 40 percent from three-point range early in 2012-13.
On the rise
It didn’t happen perhaps as quickly as many basketball analysts expected, but third-year center Tiago Splitter has become a reliable paint presence for the Spurs. The native of Brazil moved into the San Antonio starting lineup in mid-December and was a regular contributor to a 6-0 close to that month by the Spurs. He averaged 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the two New Orleans games, in relatively limited minutes.

San Antonio ranks third in the NBA in three-point percentage as a team, but has struggled against New Orleans in that department this season, going 6-for-20 and 4-for-18. The 10-for-38 accuracy (26.3 percent) is well below the Spurs’ overall rate this season of 39.1. Incidentally, the Hornets rank eighth in the statistic, at 37.9 percent.

On the sideline
In a preseason poll on among general managers, Gregg Popovich was voted the league’s premier head coach by a substantial margin (80 percent of the ballots). Since his first full season as Spurs head coach in 1997-98, his worst record was 50-32 in 2009-10. Popovich has guided San Antonio to each of its four NBA championships, won in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Did you know?
San Antonio has been the most effective franchise in the NBA at discovering and acquiring international players, a fact that becomes evident when one scans through the Spurs’ current roster. There are eight San Antonio members who were not originally from the United States, including the France trio of Parker, De Colo and Boris Diaw.

Players the Spurs want shooting free throws in a close game… If the Spurs need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…
Career FT percentage (through Jan. 4)
At age 35, still feared on daring drives to basket.
Off to career-best start from charity stripe.
Was starter for Spurs’ 2003 championship team.
Career three-point percentage (through Jan. 4)
A starter after rarely playing in his first two NBA seasons.
Of his first 44 baskets this season, 26 were three-pointers.
Has dipped somewhat after 41.9 rate in first two seasons.