Parker on brink of assists milestone

By Mike Monroe

Enjoying a career season distributing the basketball, Spurs point guard Tony Parker has moved within striking range of passing Avery Johnson as the Spurs’ leader in career assists.

With seven assists in the Spurs’ 93-81 victory over the Hornets on Thursday, Parker has 4,468 for a Spurs career that began in 2001. That is six shy of Johnson’s mark of 4,474, established in 10 seasons in silver and black that stretched from the 1990-91 season through 2000-01.

Parker is averaging 7.9 assists per game, a career high.

The timing of Parker’s arrival after the Spurs made him the 28th pick in the 2001 draft made it impossible for him not to immediately understand Johnson’s legacy.

“When I first arrived that’s all anybody talked about: Avery,” Parker said. “He meant a lot to this city, so it’s nice to be in the same category with him.

“I know Avery Johnson and know he was very big in this community and one of the best point guards ever in San Antonio. It will definitely be a great honor.”

Rest for the weary: After playing four games in five days, the Spurs didn’t practice Friday and will skip the typical morning shootaround before tonight’s game against the Thunder.

Even in a compressed season in which days available for practice are few and far between, the coaching staff’s decision to maximize recovery time between games was appreciated by the players.

“You know what?” team captain Tim Duncan said after Thursday’s victory. “I think we had some tired legs tonight. You could tell our shooters were worn out a little bit. It will be good for us.

“This is a crazy season and it’s taking a lot out of a lot of people. Any rest is good rest. I don’t think we’re going to lose much in just a day, so it’s good to get some rest under our belt because there’s a lot of games coming up and (we know) the kind of season that’s ahead of us.”

Learning for Leonard: After starting 13 consecutive games, rookie swingman Kawhi Leonard was replaced by Gary Neal in the starting lineup for Thursday’s game against the Hornets.

Popovich said the change was based on situational tactics rather than Leonard’s recent level of play.

“There’s some games another player doesn’t play a lot of minutes,” he said. “It’s just part of the game. In Dallas, Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) didn’t play a minute in the fourth quarter. That’s just the way games go sometimes.

“Certain groups are doing well, people out there doing what you want them to do. You don’t just change it to be changing it, to give somebody minutes. It’s what you’ve got to do that night to try to win.”

Leonard, who had played a little more than eight minutes in Wednesday’s game against Houston, logged nearly 12 minutes in his reserve role on Thursday.

Neal came off the bench and played more than 34 minutes against Houston. He got 29 minutes as a starter on Thursday.

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