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Spurs hold off Jazz, maintain lead for West's top spot

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- After an impressive first quarter, San Antonio's lead in the Western Conference playoff race looked pretty safe.

It was still safe by the end Tuesday, but only after the Spurs
survived a few anxious moments while holding off the Utah Jazz
95-86. The Spurs let a 24-point lead slip to five in the final minutes before finally putting away the Jazz.

Dallas had already won against Sacramento, so the Spurs needed a
victory to keep a 2½-game lead over the Mavericks for the No. 1
seed in the Western Conference. And with a 24-point lead and the
Spurs cruising through the second quarter, San Antonio's fourth
straight win turned out to be a thriller instead of a blowout.

"They got really close. It could have gone for them, but we had
a couple of great plays down the stretch," said Manu Ginobili, who
scored 26 points.

Tony Parker had 23 points and eight assists and Tim Duncan, who
was questionable because of flu symptoms before the game, finished
with 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Spurs.

San Antonio led by 24 in the second quarter and 18 at halftime,
but had to stave off several rallies by the Jazz as Utah tightened
up defensively to make up for the ugly start.

"When you play against the zone, everybody is going to get some
shots. And in the fourth quarter, we finally made some," Parker
said.

San Antonio (58-16) kept its margin over Dallas, which beat
Sacramento 127-101 Tuesday in a game that really could have helped
Utah's playoff hopes. Instead, the Jazz started and ended the night
2½ games behind the Kings for the No. 8 spot in the West.

"It's frustrating, knowing that we are right there," Deron
Williams said. "It's just frustrating. But we're still not out of
it."

Williams finished with 14 points. Carlos Boozer had 27 points
and 17 rebounds and Matt Harpring scored 21 for the Jazz.

San Antonio shot 73 percent and scored 37 in the first quarter,
and shot just well enough the final three periods to improve to 2-0
against the Jazz this season.

The Spurs made 12 of 23 3-pointers, the last a key 3 from Bruce
Bowen in the corner with 1:01 left. Bowen had just missed from
about the same spot in the corner with the shot clock winding down,
but Robert Horry pulled down the offensive rebound.

Bowen's only points of the game put the Spurs ahead 93-84 and
Ginobili added two free throws in the final minute to help San
Antonio survive.

"We've got a bunch of unselfish guys that don't really care who
gets it done," Duncan said.

The Spurs made 16 of 22 shots in the first and led 37-21 after
one. The Spurs held Utah to 11 points in the second, but the Jazz
slowly rallied in the third quarter and had a chance at the end.

Williams made a 3-pointer to start an 11-3 run that got the Jazz
within five. Williams also dropped his shoulder and drove on Parker
for a layup, then fed Boozer with a pass in the lane for a
two-handed dunk that cut San Antonio's lead to 87-82.

Duncan added a free throw and Ginobili scored two from the line
before Andrei Kirilenko's tip-in got the Jazz within 90-84. Utah
still had time to catch the Spurs, but Horry's rebound and Bowen's
3-pointer just about ended it.

"They're a good team. They sort of destroy your will to want to
play," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "But we did fight back and I
think that's tremendous on our part."

Game notes
Kirilenko had 13 points and eight rebounds. ... Williams
scored 14 for Utah. ... San Antonio was just 6-for-19 in the third
quarter. ... Official Joe Forte called technicals on Kirilenko,
Mehmet Okur and Horry on three different possessions in the third
quarter. San Antonio's Nazr Mohammed was called for a flagrant foul
when he took Jarron Collins down in the lane a few minutes later.