SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Consecutive third-quarter breakdowns. Tough nights for their top players. And now, an 0-2 deficit to a young and athletic team.
It's all happening to the San Antonio Spurs, the defending NBA champions.
The Spurs, who came into this series looking like their usual dominant selves after dispatching the Phoenix Suns in just five games, are struggling against the Hornets and searching for answers before Thursday's Game 3.
``It's always a worry when you're down two, no matter what it is,'' Tim Duncan said after Monday's Game 2 blowout loss. ``Obviously the goal is to get four games and they're a lot closer than we are. So it's about going home and getting this first one. That's the most important thing to come and we worry about things after that. I know it's cliche but we've just got to take it one game at a time and try to worry about what's in front of us next.''
It's the Hornets that remain squarely in front of the Spurs as they try to win back-to-back titles for the first time. Each of the last three times the Spurs have sought to defend a title, they've been eliminated in the conference semifinals or earlier.
The last time the Spurs were down 0-2 was 2001, when they were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. But the Spurs' first two losses that season were at home before suffering blowouts on the road.
It may not be panic time yet. San Antonio has a chance to even the series with two victories at home.
``I think everyone's going to bring a different level of intensity, and different level of focus, without even having to say anything,'' Duncan said. ``So it's a great situation and a great team to have like that and we're just going to have to do it all together and put it on the floor together.''
The Hornets, led first by David West and then Chris Paul, have so far made that pretty tough for San Antonio.
``When you beat the defending champions by 18 and 19 points the first two games, No. 1 it shows how good you are as a basketball team, but I think it kind of shows people around the league that what we've done this year hasn't been a fluke from Day 1,'' New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. ``We are for real and we've got a very good basketball team.''
Scott said he's confident his squad can get a win in San Antonio, where the Spurs lost just seven games this season, including one to the Hornets.
``We're in a groove right now. We're playing good basketball and we hit our stride at the right moment,'' said Hornets center Tyson Chandler. ``I don't know if there's been a time this year where we've been consistent the way we are right now on both ends of the floor.''
The Spurs have also been in the Hornets' position, only to go on to lose a series. In 2004, San Antonio was up 2-0 against the Lakers before losing the next four in the conference semifinals.
``I still think people, even though we're up 2-0, still think we're going to lose the series,'' Scott said. ``What we've done is get everybody's attention.''
In both Games 1 and 2, the third quarter was pivotal. On Monday, the Hornets outscored the Spurs 36-18 in the third period; in Game 1, it was 29-17.
Duncan had a career playoff-low five points and just three rebounds in Game 1. He scored 18 points in Game 2, but Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled, combining to shoot 9-of-24 from the field for 24 points. Ginobili also had five of the Spurs' 15 turnovers.
``We're playing against a very good team and twice they've done the same thing,'' Parker said. ``They jumped on us in the third quarter. From there, you know, we've had a hard time coming back. We just have to find a way to play better in the second half, especially the third quarter.''
Duncan said the key for the Spurs will be to play better defense - something that's always been San Antonio's specialty and the word that ends each team huddle.
``We have to find a way to get stops and play off of that,'' he said. ``That's how our team always works - try to get some stops and try to push it back at them - and we seem to, every time we do get a stop, they're on the offensive glass and making plays. We've got to find a way to counter that a little bit better.''
Chandler said the Hornets will focus on keeping Parker and Ginobili away from the rim for easy layups. And doubling Duncan has worked so far for New Orleans, leaving the Spurs to go to outside shooters instead.
``Our whole game plan is to keep them out of our paint,'' Chandler said. ``As long as we keep Tony and Ginobili out and keep their guys shooting jump shots, we'll be all right.''
---
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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