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Spurs joins Mavs atop Midwest Division

DALLAS (AP) -- While most basketball fans are monitoring their
NCAA brackets, the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks are
watching the NBA's Western Conference standings even closer.

That's why their game Thursday night was so important.

With Tim Duncan scoring 32 points, and rookie Tony Parker
hitting a big basket in the last half-minute, the Spurs beat the
Mavericks 105-102 for their 11th straight victory and tied them for
the Midwest Division lead.

The teams have met three times this season and each game has
been decided in the final minute. Adding to the intensity of this
meeting between Interstate 35 rivals was the fact both were coming
off lopsided victories over the Los Angeles Lakers.

"This is real satisfying," said David Robinson, who had 22
points and 12 rebounds. "These last two games really gave us a
chance to shoot for our short-term goal, which is to win the
division. We've been through our bumps and bruises and now we're
starting to play like contenders."

Winning the Midwest is crucial because it guarantees at least a
No. 2 seed in the playoffs, maybe even the top spot if the division
champ can catch Sacramento for the conference's best record. The
second-place team would have to hold off the Los Angeles Lakers for
the third spot or slip to fourth, which could mean a first-round
matchup against Minnesota or Portland.

Or, as Dallas coach Don Nelson put it, there are "ramifications
I don't want to envision."

"Every time we play them it's like a playoff game," said
Duncan, who also had 14 rebounds and five assists.

The Spurs let a 13-point lead dissolve into a 2-point deficit
with 2:34 left, then scored six straight, capped by a 3-pointer by
Bruce Bowen. After a layup by Dirk Nowitzki, Parker buried his open
jumper to make it 100-96 with 26 seconds left, then screamed with
joy.

"I'm just happy I got an opportunity to knock down a big
shot," said Parker, who scored 12 points. "This was just a really
big game for me."

Nowitzki, who had 29 points and 14 rebounds, hit two free throws
with 20.9 seconds left to get the Mavericks within two. A free
throw by Greg Buckner with 19.8 left made it 100-99.

But Buckner missed his second shot and wound up fouling Danny
Ferry. His two free throws with 14.5 seconds left put the Spurs up
by three.

Nick Van Exel, starting for the first time for Dallas, tried
tying the game but badly missed a 3-pointer. He went 1-for-12 in 39
minutes, missing all five 3-point attempts.

A free throw by Malik Rose put San Antonio up 103-99, then
Michael Finley nailed a 3-pointer to make it 103-102 with 1.3
seconds left. Finley had 21 points and was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.

Duncan was fouled before the ball was inbounded and made both
his free throws -- even though he was trying to miss the second one
in hopes of the clock running out while the teams fought for the
rebound. Given one last chance, Dallas was barely able to get off a
shot.

Steve Nash, who had 28 points and was the catalyst of a
third-quarter rally, caught a pass beyond midcourt but was only
able to hurl the ball into the lane because of tight pressure from
Rose. Rose stood still, threw up his arms in celebration and smiled
toward coach Gregg Popovich while Nash walked away with his hands
on his hips.

"We really let them get a big lead on us in the first half and
it could have been negated with just a little bit of toughness,"
said Nash, who wore himself out by pushing the offense and helping
guard post players on defense.

The Spurs had a 30-15 edge in rebounds at halftime and were
seemingly scoring at will. Duncan and Robinson were too strong
inside for Dallas' 7-footers, Nowitzki and Raef LaFrentz. San
Antonio finished with 11 more rebounds than the Mavs.

The discrepancy in the teams' styles -- inside vs. outside -- was
evident by their free-throw totals. Dallas went to the line only 16
times compared to 37 for the Spurs. Robinson alone was 12-for-15.
LaFrentz never made it to the line in 32 minutes before fouling out
with 3:51 left; Van Exel also didn't shoot a free throw.

The Mavericks have gone 7-4 during the Spurs' winning streak to
slip into the division tie. This was San Antonio's fifth straight
road win and it ended a five-game home winning streak for Dallas.

Game notes
San Antonio's Steve Smith didn't dress for the third
straight game because of a sprained right ankle. ... Dallas missed
nine of its first 10 shots. ... The Spurs are 16-3 against teams in
their division, by far the best in the NBA. ... The Mavericks
honored four area high school All-America players, three boys and a
girl, at halftime.

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