If Tony Parker keeps scoring like he has to begin the season, the San Antonio Spurs should be fine offensively until Manu Ginobili returns.
The Spurs suddenly have a bigger, more unfamiliar problem to address.
San Antonio usually wins championships because of the way it plays on the other end of the floor, but the Spurs have been one of the NBA's worst defensive teams early in the season.
The Spurs followed their 0-3 start Wednesday night with a 129-125, double-overtime victory in Minnesota, as Parker had 55 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. That allowed San Antonio to overcome another uncharacteristically poor defensive performance.
San Antonio was surrendering 106.5 points per game after that victory, third-worst in the league. The Spurs were allowing teams to shoot 48 percent from the floor, sixth from the bottom in a category in which they are usually among the league leaders.
nocking those shots down. Whatever it may be, bad defense or people just feeling comfortable against us, whatever it may be, we've got to turn that a little bit.''
With top defenders Bruce Bowen and Duncan in the frontcourt, San Antonio could always count on its ability to get stops. Yet this season, the Spurs gave up 100 or more points in losses to Phoenix and Portland, then allowed the Dallas Mavericks to shoot 53 percent in their 98-81 victory on Tuesday.
Though newcomer Roger Mason Jr. acknowledged that the ``first two games we gave up way too many points,'' he said he wasn't putting much stock in the poor start.
``Matter of fact, Tim came to me after the game and said, 'You know Rog, we usually win some games around here, so keep your head up,''' Mason said following the Dallas loss. ``These guys are champions and they know how to bounce back.''
They did the next night behind Parker, who was averaging a league-high 33.3 points on 56 percent shooting the first four games. That's helped make up for the loss of Ginobili, the Spurs' leading scorer last season, who is expected to miss 20-25 games after reinjuring his ankle playing for Argentina in the Olympics.
By the time he returns, the Spurs hope they've fixed their defensive woes. San Antonio won titles in 2003, '05 and '07, but its odd-year streak will be in jeopardy unless it goes back to the way it locked teams down in those seasons.
``We've played some bad basketball so far to say the least,'' Duncan said before the Spurs got their first victory. ``What can you say? We're going to try to turn it. Luckily playoffs don't start anytime soon.''
LIKE TAKING CANDY ... : Shaquille O'Neal apparently did his own style of trick or treating a few days after Halloween.
An early season road trip brought the Phoenix Suns to New Jersey this week, where O'Neal was born. He made a visit to his birthplace of Newark on Monday, taking in a hockey game between the Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
``I went to the Devils game and I checked out the project that I am doing here in Newark and went around the neighborhood, and I even went to the store that I used to steal candy bars when I was there, and I stole, I stole, I stole another candy bar,'' O'Neal quipped.
O'Neal did get serious, though, when asked about the Denver-Detroit trade that sent Allen Iverson to the Pistons. He gave the nod to the Nuggets, recalling how well Billups played against his Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals, when Billups was the MVP, and again the next year when the Pistons rallied past Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
n settle guys down and get the ball where it needs to go. However, Iverson will also make Detroit a tough team, too.''
NO PROBLEM: Mike D'Antoni's run with the Phoenix Suns ended with the perception that he wasn't getting along with his boss.
So he wouldn't stand for people thinking his tenure with the New York Knicks started the same way.
D'Antoni reacted quickly this week after learning of speculation in some New York papers that he and team president Donnie Walsh weren't seeing eye to eye over the benching of point guard Stephon Marbury.
``There will never be a rift between Donnie and I. ... That's not going to happen,'' D'Antoni said. ``I'm sure he's not going to agree on everything I'm doing. We'll talk everything out, I'll convince him some, he'll convince me some, but that other thing will never happen. And we're on the same page, we'll always be on the same page.''
D'Antoni hasn't played Marbury yet this season, and Walsh said he was ``unclear'' of D'Antoni's reasoning, causing the appearance of friction. But they discussed the situation Monday and Tuesday, and Walsh made it clear he doesn't question D'Antoni's decisions.
``I never tell the coach who to play. I never have,'' Walsh said. ``Because when you hire a coach, that's what you're hiring him to do. If you want to do that, you can go out and coach. And I absolutely don't.
d have since he got here and will as long as I'm here.''
D'Antoni averaged 58 wins over the last four seasons, but he and the Suns parted ways after their first-round loss to San Antonio last season. According to various stories, Suns executive Steve Kerr wanted D'Antoni to lengthen his rotation and spend more practice time on defense, and the coach felt his way was working just fine.
D'Antoni says don't bother looking for similar signs of trouble in New York.
``Regardless of any situation, I think that's how an organization has to be, on the same page, and that's key and it has been key for us and we don't have any problems with that stuff,'' D'Antoni said.
``We're just trying to get through some situations and get to the other side. And obviously winning immediately will help, but at the same time, we're going to make sure everybody knows that's not even a remote possibility that there's a problem.''
STERN THE SCOUT: Perhaps when he's done being commissioner, David Stern has a future as a scout.
Stern touted Marc Gasol's abilities before the season, and the Spanish center had a performance this week that showed Stern knew what he was talking about.
as widely viewed as a one-sided deal in the Lakers' favor.
Stern was asked about comments made by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who joked about the lopsided appearance of the trade and said perhaps a committee should be set up to review deals before they could be approved.
But Stern had gone to China to watch the Olympics, and saw Marc Gasol play well for silver medalist Spain, often teamed with his brother in the frontcourt.
``I saw Marc Gasol did a pretty good job for Spain in keeping them within two points of Team USA with four minutes to go, when I was preparing my alternate speeches,'' Stern said. ``So I guess in reading that, you have written off Marc Gasol and his NBA career?
``I just don't know,'' Stern added. ``It takes time for these trades to evaluate.''
Marc Gasol, taken by the Lakers in the second round of the 2007 draft, had a double-double in his NBA debut for the Grizzlies. Three games later, he had 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds in a 90-79 victory over Golden State.
Gasol averaged 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds, shooting 55 percent in his first five games. Pau Gasol had averages of 14.2 points and 4.8 boards in his first five games for the Grizzlies of the 2001-02 season, when he won Rookie of the Year honors.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.

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