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San Antonio wins fifth straight

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It didn't matter to the San Antonio Spurs
that Gregg Popovich was ejected. They had another head coach
waiting in the wings -- P.J. Carlesimo.

Tim Duncan scored 23 points, and Tony Parker added 21 points and
11 assists to help the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Clippers 98-79 on
Friday night for their fifth consecutive win.

"I don't know that we necessarily need the captain of the ship
to make a quick exit off the plank there. But obviously we
responded to it," Brent Barry said. "P.J. pretends to know what
he's doing over there. We listened to half of what he said, and
then the other half we made up."

Popovich never made it to the end of the first quarter. Referee
Eddie F. Rush ejected him for arguing about a ruling after a
rebound deflected off the fingertips of Clippers guard Lionel
Chalmers and out of bounds with 58.4 seconds left in the quarter
and the Spurs trailing 19-12.

"Certain plays are frustrating when you see them over and over
again," Duncan said. "It's not about what happened on that one
play. It's probably about similar plays that have happened over the
last five or six games. But we fought through it. P.J. did an
excellent job along with the rest of the assistants, and we did
great."

The ejection was the first for Popovich since Nov. 3, 2003, when
he complained about a foul that wasn't called against the Memphis
Grizzlies and made contact with referee Tony Brown. That led to a
one-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.

Moments after Carlesimo took over, the Spurs went on a 12-4 run
that sliced a 10-point deficit to 26-24 and they pulled ahead on
Duncan's 18-footer with 1:21 left in the half.

"Tony Parker really got us going and we took care of the
ball," said Carlesimo, whose NBA coaching experience includes
stints with Portland and Golden State -- where he was choked by
Latrell Sprewell after a heated exchange during practice.

The Southwest Division-leading Spurs, off to the best start in
franchise history, improved to 25-6 with their 17th victory in 20
games.

"We're playing good team ball right now," Duncan said. "We
have a very unselfish team and guys are moving the ball real well,
finding open guys and making plays. When you have seven or eight
guys contributing on a nightly basis, it's tough to beat a team
like that."

Manu Ginobili, who sat out Thursday night's victory in Portland
because of a strained neck, had nine points in 25 minutes.

"It feels much batter. It's a little tight behind my left
shoulder, but it's doing better than what I thought," Ginobili
said.

The Clippers dropped to 13-14, marking the 25th time in 29 years
that the franchise took a losing record into New Year's Day -- not
counting the lockout-delayed 1998-99 campaign. It was the third
time in four games that they have scored fewer than 80 points, and
the 10th time they failed to reach 90.

Corey Maggette and Rick Brunson each had 17 points for the
Clippers, who have won just three of their last 27 games against
San Antonio. They have dropped nine of 11 overall and finished the
month 4-9 after going 9-6 during November.

Point guard Marko Jaric missed his fifth straight game, and is
expected to be out at least another four weeks after an MRI taken
Thursday on his injured right foot revealed a stress fracture.

Brunson, starting in Jaric's absence, ended the third quarter
with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 28 feet out that narrowed the
gap to 70-62 after San Antonio pulled away to a 60-44 lead with a
21-5 run that opened the second half.

"We spotted them seven points in the beginning of the second
half, and we can't do that against a team like that because they
will bury you," Brunson said. "They have great shooters and play
their roles so strong, so we have to play the right way together
for 48 minutes."

The Spurs began the fourth quarter with a 15-6 run that opened
up an 85-68 lead with 7:18 to play. Barry, who scored 12 points on
his 33rd birthday, capped the rally with two free throws and Los
Angeles got no closer than 15.

The Spurs, who hardly broke a sweat in Thursday's 114-80 rout at
Portland, could do no better than a 39-all tie at halftime after
shooting 35.7 percent from the field. They finished at 49.3
percent.

Game notes
The Spurs finished last December 13-2, including a 13-game
winning streak that ended with a loss in their first game of 2004.
They had a regular-season record of 60-21 in the 2004 calendar
year, compared with a 62-19 mark in 2003. ... This was only the
second time the Spurs have played on New Year's Eve since moving
from the ABA to the NBA in 1976-77. Two years ago, they lost
105-103 at Washington.