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Spurs a game behind Wolves for best in West

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs are peaking at just the
right time, with two games left before they attempt to defend their
NBA championship.

Tim Duncan scored 18 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and
grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Spurs over the Los Angeles
Clippers 88-79 Sunday night for their season-high ninth straight
victory.

The Spurs are tied with Sacramento for second place in the
Western Conference, one game behind Midwest Division rival
Minnesota and a game ahead of the Lakers with two games left in the
regular season.

"We're going to finish the season on a high note and we're
trying to play as well as possible going into the playoffs,"
Duncan said after coming within one rebound of his 400th career
double-double. "You don't want to lose one of these last two games
and have some doubts in your mind, so we want to stay as confident
as we are now."

It was the 13th consecutive defeat for the Clippers, who have
dropped 28 of their last 33 and eight straight at home. The loss,
coupled with Phoenix's victory over Memphis, put Los Angeles in
last place in the West by a game.

Elton Brand scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half and had
12 rebounds for the Clippers, who were 0-for-8 from 3-point range.
Quentin Richardson, who sat out seven straight games and nine of 10
because of back spasms, was activated from the injured list and had
five points in 43 minutes while shooting just 1-for-17 from the
field.

"We wanted to get him involved in the offense. We were hoping
that he might hit a few late in the game, because he's a big-game
player and he usually hits those shots," Brand said.

"But when you come back from an injury, you're out of sync,
you're second-guessing yourself and you don't have the feel. But at
practice, he looked really good, so the coach and the team
definitely had a lot of confidence in him."

Chris Wilcox also returned to the Clippers' lineup after missing
four straight games and 12 of 13 with a strained left Achilles'
tendon, and Bobby Simmons dressed for the first time after being
sidelined for five games with a sprained left hip. But leading
scorer Corey Maggette was scratched due to an injured right
hamstring.

Down by a point entering the fourth quarter, the Clippers got a
layup from Simmons that put them ahead 67-66 with 9:48 remaining.
But that would be their last lead. Duncan responded with 10 points
in a 2:37 span to give the Spurs a 76-69 advantage with 6:25 to
play.

"It was a long time since I've seen him take over a game like
that. It was awesome," said teammate Tony Parker, who had 14
points and eight assists. "He was shooting the ball with
confidence and he just carried us."

Clippers rookie center Chris Kaman cut it to 78-74 on a dunk and
a layup with 3:22 left, but Duncan put it away with a 13-footer, a
short hook shot and two free throws.

"We played him pretty well up to that point, but he's very
tough to stop," Brand said. "He's a two-time MVP and he's got two
rings, and you can see why. He's hard for anybody to contain
one-on-one. He hit some very tough shots."

Trailing by as many as 13 points after Robert Horry's layup with
4:35 left in the half, the Clippers ended the second quarter with a
13-4 run that narrowed the gap to 46-42. They took their first
lead, 48-47, on a dunk by Brand with 9:13 left in the third, but
the Spurs responded with a 10-2 spurt triggered by Rasho
Nesterovic's 19-footer.

"It was an ugly win, but I'll take it," Parker said. "The
Clippers had lost 12 in a row, so they were very motivated. But
Timmy got hot in the fourth quarter and we ended up with a win."

Game notes
Richardson has missed at least 10 shots in each of his last
six games and 36 of his 63 games this season. The Clippers are
12-24 in those contests. ... San Antonio G Matt Carroll made his
Spurs debut -- five weeks after he signed with them out of the
National Basketball Developmental League. He was on the injured
list because of patella tendinitis in his left knee. San Antonio
placed G Devin Brown on the injured list because of cartilage
separation in his ribcage. ... This is the Clippers' 10th losing
streak of 13 or more games in franchise history, and the ninth in
Los Angeles. They have lost 22 straight games in which they trailed
after three quarters, and 17 straight in which they committed at
least 20 fouls. ... The Clippers have won only six of their last 47
meetings with the Spurs. ... San Antonio improved to 20-0 when
shooting at least 50 percent. ... The only other time this season
the Clippers failed to make a 3-pointer was March 19, when they
were 0-for-5 against the Lakers.

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