Defending champs win sixth straight

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- With so much attention focused on the Lakers,
Kings and Timberwolves, it's easy to forget that the San Antonio
Spurs are reigning NBA champions.

They served a strong reminder Sunday.

Tony Parker had 29 points and nine assists and the Spurs beat
the Los Angeles Lakers 95-89 for their sixth straight victory,
moving them within 1{ games of the Western Conference lead.

Tim Duncan added 18 points, 13 rebounds and six assists and
Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili scored 12 points each for the Spurs
(52-25), who have won eight of nine to move into contention for the
Midwest Division title and No. 1 seed in the West.

"Every year it's like this -- it's not new to us," Duncan said.
"It doesn't matter. We're going to keep playing, and we're going
to hopefully be in position to make a run at the end. That's all
we're playing for. We're not playing for attention.

"Every year it's the same way -- every year it's about somebody
else. Hopefully we'll sneak in the back door and people forget
about us."

The Lakers, who had their 11-game winning streak snapped,
certainly aren't overlooking the Spurs.

"They're the defending champions until somebody beats them,"
Kobe Bryant said. "We were in that position before."

San Antonio won the championship in 1999 before Los Angeles won
the next three. The Spurs won last year, eliminating the Lakers
along the way.

The Lakers entered with an NBA-best 22-4 record since the
All-Star break.

"That was a really good win for us against a very tough team --
a team that's played better than anybody in the league right now,"
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Regarding Parker, Popovich said: "Tony's been playing great for
about a month. For a 21-year-old kid, he's pretty special."

Parker shot just 1-of-11 in his last game -- a 94-81 victory at
Utah. He was 10-of-22 against the Lakers.

"I got a good rhythm," he said. "I shot bad last game. I knew
if I could make a couple outside shots, it would open it up for

The Lakers dropped into third place in the West -- a half-game
behind the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, who both
won Sunday.

Bryant led the Lakers (53-24) with 28 points and six rebounds,
but he shot just 9-of-26 while being closely guarded by Bowen.

Gary Payton had 21 points and eight rebounds; Shaquille O'Neal
added 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, and Karl
Malone had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers.

"We played right into their hands. We didn't do a good job of
passing the basketball," Malone said.

"They play really smart ball," O'Neal said. "I just think we
did an awful job on defense -- especially the pick and roll."

Ginobili made three free throws -- one following a technical foul
against Malone -- to give the Spurs an 84-70 lead with 6:19 left.

The Lakers needed barely over a minute to draw within six
points, getting a basket from Malone, two free throws by Bryant and
two dunks by O'Neal.

Malone made two free throws to make it 88-84 before Duncan made
a jumper, rebounded a miss by Payton and fed Parker for a 3-pointer
to give the Spurs a nine-point lead with 2:13 to play.

Bryant made a 3-pointer and Payton added two free throws to draw
the Lakers within four points with 1:27 left. The Lakers had a
chance to get closer, but O'Neal missed a short jumper. Two free
throws by Duncan with 48.8 seconds remaining completed the scoring.

"I never felt like we had the kind of energy in the game that I
like to have," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Bryant had seven points as Los Angeles outscored the Spurs 14-3
to begin the third quarter, tying the game at 56. But the Lakers
never led in the second half.

The Spurs went on a 19-6 run to finish the third quarter and
start the fourth for a 79-66 lead.

Game notes
The Lakers' winning streak was their longest since the
1999-2000 season, when they had streaks of 19, 16 and 11 games. ...
San Antonio won 13 in a row from Dec. 5-28 for the NBA's
second-longest winning streak this season. That streak began two
days after the Spurs lost to the Lakers 90-86. ... New Jersey has
the season's longest winning streak with 14 straight from Jan.
25-Feb. 24. ... The Lakers also had their 10-game winning streak at
home snapped. ... Jackson again expressed uncertainty concerning
his future, but said if he coaches next season, it will only be
with the Lakers. Talks with management regarding an extension were
halted two months ago. The five-year, $30 million contract Jackson
signed in 1999 expires after the season. Jackson has coached nine
championship teams -- tied with Boston's Red Auerbach for the most
in NBA history.


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