LOS ANGELES (AP) — Home-court advantage or a healthy roster? That's an easy one for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Home-court advantage for a potential showdown with the league-leading Lakers doesn't appear a realistic possibility with the Spurs trailing them by 7 1-2 games despite Monday night's 106-78 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers.
"If you don't have the highest seed that you want, you've still got a shot to get it done because you've got your players. If you're not healthy, you've got no shot," Popovich said. "We'll be ready or we won't. It's senseless to worry about that now. You just take each day and try to do the things you need to do to be a better team, regardless of who's out there, and see what happens."
None of San Antonio's four NBA titles came in a year when the Lakers had home-court advantage against the Spurs in the postseason.
"I think we'd be closer to the Lakers if we didn't have the injuries, but any team can say that because everybody has injuries," Popovich said. "We're doing what we need to do to get closer to teams like the Lakers or whoever you think is going to be there in the end in the West."
Tony Parker had 26 points and 10 assists for San Antonio, which pulled away in the third quarter with four 3-pointers from Michael Finley. The Spurs, who came in with a league's best assist-to-turnover ratio, had 28 assists and just eight turnovers against the Clippers.
"We wanted to bounce back after a poor performance against Portland and bring some energy and shoot better," Parker said. "Tonight we moved the ball pretty well and shot the ball well."
Tim Duncan, playing his second game after missing the previous three with a sore right knee, had 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists before sitting out the fourth quarter. The 11-time All-Star needs 18 points to overtake Scottie Pippen for 44th place on the career scoring list.
Finley and Matt Bonner each had 14 points for the Spurs, who avoided their first three-game losing streak since starting the season 0-3. Manu Ginobili, the NBA's sixth man of the year last season, missed his eighth straight game because of an ankle injury and is expected to miss at least another week.
Since Ginobili's NBA debut on Oct. 29, 2002, the Spurs have gone 50-29 when he doesn't play — including 11-10 this season.
"Whether Manu is in there or not, it doesn't change that basic understanding and belief that we have," Popovich said. "What it does change is that a player who definitely wins X number of games a year in some way, shape or form that no one can anticipate ahead of time. We don't have that athleticism that he gives us and that wild card, and that's where he affects the team — but not the basic philosophy of the team."
Wherever they finish in the West the Spurs will have to improve on defense to make an impact in the postseason.
"We're a team that understands that we have to be one of the two or three best defensive teams in the league to win a championship, or it won't happen," Popovich said. "On a scale of 1-to-10 defensively, we're about 7 1-2 or 8. But we need to be a 9 or a 9 1-2 by playoff time to be able to compete with the best — especially the Lakers, who are the best.
"But we're not going anywhere if Manu's not healthy," Popovich added. "I do know for a fact that all four years that we won the championships, everybody was 100 percent healthy. And that's the way it's got to be. If you look at any team that's won it, that's been the case."
Al Thornton and Fred Jones each had 14 points for the Clippers, who have lost 11 straight against San Antonio and 19 of the last 20 meetings. Thornton missed 10 of his first 11 shots and finished 5-for-19.
"I have a bad shooting night, then a good shooting night. That's what I do," the second-year forward said. "I got the looks I wanted. Every shot I took was a good shot. I just missed."
The Spurs, the league's second-best 3-point shooting team, missed 10 of 11 attempts from behind the arc in the first half before Finley heated up. His fourth 3-pointer in a 5:08 span capped a 23-10 run that helped increase San Antonio's 13-point halftime lead to 74-48 with 5:22 left in the third. The last two were set up by Parker.
The Clippers got as close as 16 points on Baron Davis' layup with 6:48 remaining, but Parker responded with a 17-footer, a three-point play and a 3-point shot to help seal the victory.
Los Angeles used its 26th different starting lineup, with 3-point specialist Steve Novak making his second start of the season at small forward and rookie Mike Taylor starting his second game at shooting guard.
Zach Randolph was not with the Clippers, having flown to Indianapolis to be with his seriously ill father. Eric Gordon, the league's top scorer among rookies with a 15.1 average, missed his third straight game with a bruised left shoulder.
Jones, who missed Saturday's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats because of a sore lower back, beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 62-footer from the right sideline that hit nothing but net to trim San Antonio's lead to 26-21.
Notes: Davis is credited with the longest basket in NBA history, an 89-footer at the end of the third quarter that sparked the Charlotte Hornets to a 103-93 win at Milwaukee on Feb. 21, 2001. ... Los Angeles is 1-11 against the six current division leaders, with the only victory coming last Wednesday against the defending champion Boston Celtics. Last season, the Clippers were 1-17 against teams that won their respective division titles — the only win coming against Utah. ... Finley played 26 minutes and increased his career total to 36,576, overtaking Jerry West for 39th place.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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