San Antonio Spurs drub New Orleans Pelicans

SAN ANTONIO — The New Orleans Pelicans could have blamed a lopsided 96-80 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on a lot of factors.

Anthony Davis, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, joined a growing list of injuries. Eric Gordon was out again, too. New Orleans was playing on the road in the second game of a back-to-back.

In the end, the Pelicans readily admitted they just got beat by a better team Saturday night.

“We’ve had a few weeks were we’ve competed and gave a lot. I think tonight maybe it kind of caught up to us a little bit, but they played last night as well,” New Orleans guard Brian Roberts said. “We just have to get ready for Monday (at home against Sacramento).”

Roberts, who was questionable with a bruised left knee, scored 18 points to lead New Orleans (32-41).

“He came through,” Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans said. “He looked like he was limping a little bit early, but once he got moving, he got in a rhythm and he made ‘B-Rob’ shots.”

Austin Rivers had 16 points, Evans added 11 points and Al-Farouq Aminu had eight points and 10 rebounds.

The Spurs led by as many as 22 points and never trailed after the game’s opening possession, rolling to its 17th straight victory.

“They move around a lot, and run their sets hard,” Roberts said. “Whatever they’re running, they are moving constantly. It puts pressure on a defense to play 24 seconds worth.”

The loss snapped the Pelicans’ five-game winning streak.

New Orleans defeated the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers during the win streak, but Evans believes San Antonio is playing at another level than even those elite teams.

“I want to say (the Spurs are) much better,” he said. “Their defense is a little better. They talk. They communicated with each other well. One thing I will say, with other teams, I don’t really hear them talk out there but those guys are talking a lot. I think that’s what makes their defense pretty good.”

New Orleans was playing without Davis, who suffered a left ankle injury in the opening four minutes of the team’s 102-95 victory over Utah.

“It’s a joint/soft tissue injury right now,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “He did it in his normal routine. He’s listed as day-to-day. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Davis’ replacement, Alexis Ajinca, drained a 17-foot jumper over Tim Duncan on the game’s opening possession to give the Pelicans their only lead.

New Orleans followed with a pair of three-minute scoring droughts and then went scoreless for another two minutes as San Antonio opened on a 23-8 run.

“We didn’t get off to a good start,” Roberts said. “When you have a team like the Spurs, a veteran team that executes so well, that’s one thing you want to do is start off the game well. We didn’t do that, and they capitalized and took advantage of it.”

Williams said the Pelicans’ inability to finish in the paint — they were 18-for-48 — led to their demise.

“What ends up happening when your guards are at the basket and not finishing, your transition defense is messed up,” Williams said. “Now, the bigs are at the basket, your guards are at the basket. When (the Spurs) take off, it’s usually three-on-two or four-on-two. So, you start to struggle. Then, it’s exhausting, because now your guards are playing basket to basket, as far as running distance.”

Marco Belinelli led the league-leading Spurs (57-16) with 18 points on 4-for-5 shooting on 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili added 15 points each, Patty Mills had 13 points and Duncan had 12 points and eight rebounds.

New Orleans’ three-man bench outscored its starters 11-4 in the first quarter. The backcourt of Evans and Anthony Morrow went scoreless in the opening 12 minutes after combining for 42 points in Friday night’s win over Utah.

Playing without Davis hurt, but Williams said his young charges were facing a tough test regardless.

“It’s tough to prepare for them anyway because of their ball movement and experience,” Williams said. “But you still have to go forward with your plan. I’m not going to wait ’til the last minute to put our lineups in. We’ll change if we have to after a couple of possessions.”

San Antonio had 24 assists while shooting 37 for 78 from the field.

The Spurs never trailed by less than 10 points after Belinelli’s opening 3-pointer gave them a 16-4 lead.

Rivers’ layup with 30.9 seconds remaining in the third quarter pulled New Orleans within 69-59, but Belinelli hit back-to-back 3-pointers to fuel a 12-3 run to put the game away.

The Pelicans finished 3-for -12 on 3-pointers.