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Spurs keep on winning to move atop standings

San Antonio takes one-game lead in Midwest Division

Spurs 99, Clippers 81

Even the competition is lining up behind the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio strengthened its grip on the best record in the Western Conference with a 99-81 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.

The victory, the seventh straight and 21st in 25 games for San Antonio, prompted Clippers coach Alvin Gentry to predict great things for the Spurs.

"With the depth they're going to have and the experience they're going to have, I think they will be NBA champions," Gentry said. "They already won it once, they know they can do it, they've been there. They just have to play well at the right time."

San Antonio has played well for most of the season. The Spurs improved to 44-19, one-game ahead of idle Utah in the race for the conference's best record with 19 regular-season games remaining.

"You look at their depth, and adding Derek Anderson and Danny Ferry, and obviously when they get Sean Elliott healthy and Avery Johnson, when he gets his legs under him," Gentry said. "They're just a real quality basketball team."

Tim Duncan led the way Monday with 28 points and 11 rebounds as the Spurs received double-figure scoring from four players and extended their winning streak against the Clippers to 13 games.

David Robinson had 14 points and 12 rebounds.

"They made it hard for us from the beginning," Los Angeles' Jeff McInnis said. "The big guys set the tone for the game early."

San Antonio showed no residual effect of a five-game road trip that concluded with key games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers.

"It was great the guys played to such a high standard coming off the road trip," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "They were tired, but they concentrated and executed well. That was the best part of the game."

Duncan agreed.

"We talked about not having a letdown before the game," said Duncan, who recorded his 51st double-double of the season. "We started out strong from the opening tip and kept it going for the whole game."

The extended run has given the Spurs control of their future.

"Controlling your own (playoff) destiny is all you can really ask for," Duncan said. "You want it to come down to what you do, you don't want to have to worry about other team's helping you out. That's what we've worked for."

NUGGETS 84, WARRIORS 79: Nick Van Exel scored seven of his 17 points in the final 3:46 as Denver snapped a nine-game road losing streak.

Raef LaFrentz had 16 points and a season-high 16 rebounds as Denver won in Oakland for the second time this season.

Antonio McDyess, who missed three games due to a knee injury, added 12 points and 17 rebounds. Robert Pack scored 15 points.

Mookie Blaylock scored 20 points for Golden State, which lost its seventh straight. Antawn Jamison and Chris Porter each added 15.

HORNETS 102, BULLS 94: Jamal Mashburn had 28 points, eight rebounds and a career-high 14 assists as Charlotte beat visiting Chicago for the ninth straight time.

Elden Campbell scored 26 points for the Hornets, who pulled within two games of Milwaukee for the Central Division lead.

P.J. Brown had 10 points and 11 rebounds to tie Charlotte's club record with nine consecutive double-doubles. David Wesley added 14 points.

Former Hornet Brad Miller had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Bulls, who extended their road losing streak to a franchise-high 19 games. Chicago has lost 25 of its last 30.

TIMBERWOLVES 94, HEAT 77: Kevin Garnett had 24 points and 15 rebounds and Chauncey Billups added 17 points as host Minnesota snapped a two-game losing streak.

Miami was without Anthony Mason and Duane Causwell, who were sent home early Monday by coach Pat Riley as punishment for arriving late to a team meeting. The meeting, held in Minnesota on Sunday night, was one that Riley said, "you didn't want to be late for."

Wally Szczerbiak had 13 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota.

Brian Grant had 24 points and 13 rebounds for Miami, which lost for the third time in four games.