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Pressure to perform pushes Parker

Remember this offseason when there was a rousing debate about whether the Spurs should go after free agent Jason Kidd or stick with up-and-comer Tony Parker?

Parker had led his team to a championship, which Kidd hasn't done in two title series appearances, and Parker was younger with more potential. At least that was the argument.

So far, the Spurs point guard is looking like he might have peaked last season, and San Antonio doesn't look like a championship contender with Parker not at his best.

To be fair, Parker has had shoulder, back and ankle injuries, keeping him from whizzing past defenders. This season, Parker's third, he's averaging 14 points and 5.5 assists and shooting 43 percent.

"It's tough for him to have the legs to shoot, and it's tough for him to get by people to create for others," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We haven't really gotten out of him what we're accustomed to. When you're struggling that much and you're 21 years old, it's pretty hard to think in terms of being a leader and making sure everybody is where they need to be. I'm probably expecting too much of him. But to be the best team in the league, we need to have that and we don't have it right now."

The encouraging sign for Popovich is that Parker responds well to challenges. After a recent challenge by his coach, Parker scored 20 in the first half against Boston.

MORE EXCUSES: Tracy McGrady said he doesn't like excuses, but he has just come up with another one to explain his lousy season (by his standards).

McGrady said playing with the Olympic qualifying team last summer set him back.

"I just don't feel the same on the court," McGrady said. "I've never shot this poorly before. I think it has taken a toll for a lot of the guys. Look around the league."

Allen Iverson (knee), Ray Allen (ankle) and Elton Brand (foot) have had the most significant injuries since playing on the team, but all three remain at the top of their game when on the court.

A.D. WAITING FOR CALL: A dozen players have won multiple scoring titles. Eight are in the Hall of Fame, and Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson are locks to be enshrined when they are eligible.

So who's the scorer on the fence?

It's Adrian Dantley, who won scoring titles with Utah in 1980-81 and 1983-84. Dantley, a Nuggets assistant, has been a finalist in each of the past three years but hasn't made it.

Dantley will find out during All-Star weekend whether he is again a finalist. If so, he'll need to wait until April 5 to learn his fate.

"People tell me, "Oh, you're going to get in,' " Dantley said. "But we'll just have to wait and see."

Dantley was selected to six All-Star Games and finished his 15-year career in 1991 with a scoring average of 24.3.

AROUND THE RIM: O'Neal and Kobe Bryant could be back with the Lakers for Friday's game against the Timberwolves. Atlanta's Theo Ratliff is generating a lot of interest in the days leading up to the trading deadline. He's a presence inside defensively and can help virtually any team with its playoff run. A diehard Lakers fan living in northern California plopped down $1,200 last month for two courtside seats for his team's visit to Sacramento. The Lakers, without injured O'Neal, Bryant and Karl Malone, got clobbered 103-83. "I was bragging to all of my co-workers about these great tickets, and then this happens," Brodie Downs said. "Now they're teasing me."

_ Information from the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News and Rocky Mountain News was used in this report.

Injuries have slowed guard Tony Parker after he led San Antonio to the NBA title last year.