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Spurs break it open in the third, withstand 23-2 Lakers run

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs breathed a sigh of
relief after their latest victory.

On two fronts.

Tony Parker had 22 points and nine assists, Malik Rose came off
the bench for season-high totals of 19 points and 11 rebounds, and
the Spurs held off the Los Angeles Lakers 103-91 Thursday night
despite blowing most of a 28-point lead in the fourth quarter.

San Antonio star Tim Duncan didn't play for the last 15½ minutes
after hyperextending his left knee, but it appears he won't miss
any more time.

The Spurs don't play again until next Tuesday.

"Very scary, very scary," Parker said. "He's our star. That's
the main guy for us."

The game was the first for the Lakers since Rudy Tomjanovich
resigned as coach, citing health concerns. Frank Hamblen,
Tomjanovich's replacement, lobbied for the return of Phil Jackson
earlier in the day.

Duncan was injured with 8:40 left before halftime in a collision
with Caron Butler, and immediately grabbed at his knee with both
hands -- obviously in great pain.

But it subsided quickly.

Duncan sat out the rest of the second quarter, but started the
second half and had nine points and five rebounds in the third
quarter before coming out for good with 3:39 to play in the period.

"Once I took him out of the game and we had the lead, I just
didn't think it would be very smart to put him back in," Spurs
coach Gregg Popovich said. "He wanted to go in, he was begging me.
I just thought he was too stiff.

"One game is not more important than his health."

Duncan said his entire body stiffened up, but added: "I was
ready to go back in."

He finished with 17 points in 19 minutes.

"It feels pretty good," he said of his knee. "It'll be all
right."

The Spurs outscored Los Angeles 37-15 in the third quarter for
an 80-55 lead, and led 89-61 early in the fourth when the Lakers
went on a 23-2 run to draw within seven points with 3:51 remaining.

But that was as close as they would get.

"It just shows what we're capable of and how we can play if we
get after it a little bit," said Lamar Odom, who led the Lakers
with 23 points and 13 rebounds.

Manu Ginobili had 17 points and nine assists for the Spurs
(38-10), who have won four straight and eight of nine.

"Their lead got too big," Odom said. "The San Antonio Spurs
don't lose a game when they're up by 25."

Chucky Atkins added 18 points and Butler scored 14 for the
Lakers (24-20), who missed another opportunity for a season-high
three-game winning streak. They've won consecutive games 10 times,
but failed in each of those situations to win a third straight.

Hamblen, a 57-year-old career assistant, has five championship
rings, all earned as an assistant under Jackson with the Lakers and
Chicago Bulls.

"I just feel like I'm keeping the seat warm," Hamblen said.

When asked who for, he replied: "I have no idea."

Then, Hamblen said: "I'd love for Phil to come back any day, to
be honest with you."

Tomjanovich succeeded Jackson last summer, signing a five-year,
$30 million contract. Jackson had an identical deal that expired
after last season, and he wasn't asked to return.

Jackson coached the Lakers to championships in his first three
years on the job and guided them to the NBA Finals last June, where
they lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has acknowledged that
Jackson's name would come up in discussions. But Kupchak didn't
rule out the possibility that Hamblen would coach the rest of the
season, or beyond.

Hamblen served as acting head coach in the previous two games,
which Tomjanovich missed because of a stomach virus. It was during
that time that Tomjanovich decided to step down.

The Lakers are 5-5 without Kobe Bryant, who hasn't played since
spraining his right ankle Jan. 13.

Game notes
Popovich said the Spurs remain interested in 41-year-old
free agent Karl Malone, who is mulling retirement. Malone, the
second-leading scorer in NBA history who played for the Lakers last
year, hasn't played this season after undergoing knee surgery last
summer. ... The Lakers play 24 of their last 38 games on the road,
starting Sunday when they begin a five-game trip in Houston.
They've played an NBA-low 17 road games. "We look forward to it,"
said Bryant, who hopes to return sometime on the trip. "That's
where you bond -- on the road." ... The Spurs have five games
remaining on a seven-game road trip, but since they don't play
again until Tuesday, they'll spend the weekend in San Antonio.
"Kind of strange, isn't it?" Popovich said of going home during a
road trip. Popovich said he's hopeful C Rasho Nesterovic, who has
missed six games due to a sprained left ankle, will play Tuesday at
Charlotte in the first of three games in four nights for the Spurs.
... Bryant, a Philadelphia Eagles fan, wore a Donovan McNabb jersey
as he watched from the bench.