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Lakers book playoff berth, beat Spurs

THE Los Angeles Lakers became the first team from the Western Conference to lock up a place in the NBA playoffs after beating the San Antonio Spurs 102-95 yesterday.

Kobe Bryant scored the last of his 23 points on a 3-pointer with 1:46 left that wrapped up the win.

The Spurs have been the West's No. 2 team most of the season, and Los Angeles validated that pecking order. The Lakers also wrapped up the Pacific Division in the final rematch this season of the 2008 Western Conference finals.

Tony Parker and Michael Finley led San Antonio with 25 points apiece. Drew Gooden made his Spurs debut after being signed a week ago, but played just 3-1/4 minutes.

One night after ending Houston's 12-game home winning streak, the Lakers wrapped up their road trip by bringing San Antonio's three-game winning string to a halt.

The loss cut San Antonio's lead over the Rockets in the Southwest Division to two games, with the Spurs heading to Houston on Saturday. The Rockets play at Charlotte today.

If it was a West playoff preview, it didn't feel that way until the fourth quarter. Los Angeles led by as much as 18 in the first quarter, but San Antonio chipped away, cutting the lead to 95-93 on a 3-pointer from Parker with 2:18 left.

Then Bryant, with rookie George Hill closely guarding him, sank the 3-pointer that quashed any hopes of a Spurs comeback.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game he didn't know if Gooden would play, then inserted his new big man for a brief spell in the second half. It was just the third appearance since Jan. 19 for Gooden, who has been hobbled by a groin injury since starting the season in Chicago and then being traded to Sacramento last month.

Cavaliers 119, Suns 111

In Phoenix, Cleveland's LeBron James got his third consecutive triple-double and a long-sought first win in Phoenix.

James had 34 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds, and Cleveland won a road game against the Suns for the first time in a decade.

On the only NBA court in which he hadn't won, James was 0-5 here heading into the game. He completed his triple-double with a rebound with 2.8 seconds to play.

Mo Williams, who scored a career-high 44 the first time the teams met this season, added 30 for Cleveland, including 6-of-10 3-pointers.

Matt Barnes scored 21 and Steve Nash 20 as the Suns extended their losing streak to six games, their longest in six seasons. Phoenix is six games behind Dallas in the race for the final playoff berth in the West.

The Cavaliers made a season-best 17 3 pointers to win for the eighth time in nine games and improve to 13-2 since Jan. 30. It also set a new franchise record for road wins, surpassing the 22 they had in 1991-92.

Cleveland took control of the intense contest with a late 10-2 run after the was cut to 101-100 with 7:04 remaining.

Williams hit a running 7-footer and a 3-pointer and James sank a 20-footer in the surge. James capped it with two free throws that made it 111-102 with 3:45 left. Nash's 3-pointer cut it to 113-109 with 2:11 remaining, but Williams sank another 3, James added two free throws, and the Suns were finished.


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