CHICAGO (AP) — It didn't take long for the San Antonio Spurs to show the Chicago Bulls why they're leading the NBA.
Manu Ginobili scored 22 points and Tony Parker had 20 points and nine assists, and the Spurs beat the Bulls 104-96 Tuesday night for their seventh straight win and 10th in their last 11. San Antonio jumped out to a big advantage early, taking a 38-14 lead after one quarter and going up 61-33 into halftime. That helped them improve to 24-6 on the road, the NBA's best mark away from home.
Kawhi Leonard added 16 and nine rebounds for the Spurs (47-16), who maintained their hold on the NBA's best record. With the win they stayed a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City and Indiana, who both won.
"Wonderful game, we were very sharp," Ginobili said. "We made a lot of shots in the beginning, which gave us a lead that ... it's easier to play like that." Parker had 18 at halftime and went 8 for 15 from the field for a team that made 51 percent overall against one of the NBA's best defensive clubs. Ginobili was 9 of 11.
Also the league's top 3-point shooting team at 39.2 percent, San Antonio made 12 of 21 from behind the arc, including four from Ginobili. That and the big first half added up to another win for the Spurs, who are 14-3 since a 96-86 loss to Chicago on Jan. 29 and can improve on that Wednesday at home against Portland. The Spurs' roster is finally healthy, something coach Gregg Popovich noted.
"We seem like we're playing pretty consistently now," Popovich said. "I don't think we're going to win every game down the stretch." The Bulls, meanwhile, were coming off a dramatic 95-88 win Sunday over the Heat but couldn't build off that victory, falling to 1-2 on a season-high six-game homestand that also has games with the Rockets, Kings and Thunder.
Coach Tom Thibodeau blamed himself for the slow start. "I told them, that's completely on me. My job is to have them ready. We had no edge to us," Thibodeau said. "That's a championship-caliber team that's playing on all cylinders and they're going after it, so if you don't match that intensity to start, you are going to get in a big hole.
"So I didn't prepare them the way they needed to be prepared for that, so that's on me." D.J. Augustin led the Bulls with 24 points and Jimmy Butler had 23. Joakim Noah, whose name has started to be mentioned in MVP discussions, had 13 and eight rebounds.
That all was a far cry from Sunday, when the Bulls held Miami to 40.5 percent shooting and overcame a 42.2 percent shooting game of their own. That didn't happen Tuesday for the Bulls, who were 43 percent from the field.
"It's on us," Butler said. "We're the ones out there playing, so we have to bring it each and every night. Thibs can only do so much. You learn from it." The Bulls saw early how costly a slow start can be, only pulling to within eight late in the fourth quarter.
Ginobili's reverse layup with a second left in the period gave San Antonio a 38-14 lead after the first. The Spurs ended the half leading by 28 and hitting 61 percent from the field, looking like a team peaking.
Ginobili, however, hopes they aren't doing that too early. "It's not the right time yet. Still 20 games to go," Ginobili said. NOTES: Spurs guard and former Bull Marco Belinelli scored 10 points and got a warm reception when he checked in for the first time with 10.1 seconds left in the first quarter. ... Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted Belinelli's contributions and jokingly said he's "a great source for Italian restaurants around the league." ... Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is not surprised fatigue hasn't hit his team yet, despite its lack of depth. "Whatever it is that you're facing, you've got to be ready to accept that challenge and be ready to play," he said. ... Because of the injuries the Spurs have suffered this season, Popovich was asked if this season has been his best coaching job. "Haven't they all been brilliant?" he said. "I got no clue. My 2-22 season in Pomona was my best." ... Popovich said Noah's personality is "the opposite" of Duncan in terms of showing emotion, but praised the Bulls center's emotional fire.