Spurs 88, Clippers 79

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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 fourthquarter and we ended up with a win.”

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 tomake a 3-pointer was March 19, when they were 0-for-5 against the Lakers.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 San Antonio
T. Duncan T. Duncan
10-17,  26 Pts
9 Rebs, 2 Assists
 LA Clippers
E. Brand E. Brand
8-23,  23 Pts
12 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists