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Spurring Them On

Game 1: When push comes to shove in the Laker-Spur series that starts tonight at Alamodome, Reid and Elie figure to be in the middle of it.

May 17, 1999|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO — In either blood or dollars, you pay a price for bruising basketball in the playoffs, and J.R. Reid and Mario Elie can vouch for that.

Wouldn't have it any other way, actually.

In separate but equally emphatic ways, their bumping and emotion helped propel the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs--two teams not always known for hard fouls and angry moments--into this intriguing Western Conference semifinal matchup, which begins tonight at the Alamodome.

Ring up Don King, get the ring-card girls ready, could this be a Laker-Spur slugfest?

"It's a physical time of the season," said Reid, the new Laker power forward-enforcer who got a $10,000 fine Sunday for knocking Scottie Pippen to the floor in the third quarter of Saturday's series-clinching victory over Houston.

"I think at this point of the season, everybody's playing physical. You look at the other games in the playoffs, you see the way everyone's really getting after it. No easy layups. That's no secret, that's the way playoff basketball has always been."

It's not art. It's not pretty X-and-O schemes and chess-playing.

It's physical graffiti, on an NBA stage, broadcast loud and live, complete with slam-dance soundtrack and foes who will hate you for it.

And, as this best-of-seven series starts up and these familiar teams inspect each other's weaknesses and seek to gain advantages, it wins playoff games.

Elie, the spiritual leader of the top-seeded Spurs, suffered a large cut over his right eye in the Spurs' Game 4 clincher over Minnesota on Saturday when Anthony Peeler stopped him on a drive to the basket.

Later, Spur center David Robinson, often chided for being unwilling to mix it up when things get tough, pushed Joe Smith after receiving a shove from Smith.

Now, the Spurs must deal with Shaquille O'Neal, who has crushed the Spurs and Robinson throughout his career, who makes a special point of playing well in San Antonio, where he attended high school, and who is coming off a roaring 29.5-point, four-blocks-a-game series with Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon.

"Shaq is as physical as the whole Minnesota team put together," San Antonio point guard Avery Johnson said.

O'Neal laughed about his luggage being misplaced again Saturday--the second time that has happened this season--but had no mocking words for Robinson and Duncan.

In the preseason, O'Neal railed about predictions that (accurately, it turns out) placed San Antonio at the top of the Western Conference, though Saturday he repeated that Duncan and Robinson "made first team all-NBA" (which is news to Robinson, and the NBA) and that he was "third-team" (which also is news to the NBA, which has not released its all-league teams).

"I don't want to say anything that's going to get the town pumped up," O'Neal said Saturday. "This isn't a town I should really get pumped up. It's not like Orlando. So I'm going to watch what I say this time.

"They're great players. They're playing excellent. But we match up with them well."

From a 6-8 start, which included an 80-75 home loss to the Lakers on Feb. 8, Duncan emerged from a shooting slump, Elie charged the Spurs with his intensity and San Antonio won 31 of its last 35 regular-season games, including a 27-point thrashing of the Lakers in the Alamodome on April 24.

The Lakers, meanwhile, followed up that defeat with another bad loss in Houston, but have won seven of their last eight, including a 3-1 series victory over the Rockets.

"We beat them early when they weren't playing that well," said Laker point guard Derek Fisher, referring also to the Lakers' 106-94 victory at the Great Western Forum on Feb. 19. "They beat us late when we weren't playing that well.

"We really don't know how good they are. . . . We'll find out how good they really are tomorrow."

Reid, who goes from having to wrestle future Hall of Famer Charles Barkley in the low post to trying to defend MVP-candidate Tim Duncan and his all-around game, was a member of the Spurs from 1993-95, and says that any notion that they lack toughness is wrongheaded.

"Soft-minded players, guys who don't step up to challenges, don't last long in this league," Reid said. "They don't have anybody on their team that's like that."

So will this series--with Reid and Robert Horry having to quiet Duncan--get as physical as the Rocket matchup?

"It's going to be a lot different game," Reid said. "You know, he's not as physical a player. But he mixes it up. He's a very talented big man.

"But we've got the big fella in there, Shaq, which seems to equalize everybody in the paint."

Reid's teammates loved his physical statement on Pippen, and pointed to it as a symbol of a Laker team that is willing to do the battling bodywork--intense defense, rebounding, shoulder-to-shoulder contact--to win tough playoff games.

Reid said he accepted the fine, but wasn't sure the foul merited such a penalty.

"I know Pip, I'd never try to hurt him," Reid said. "I didn't really think it was that bad of a hit. . . . I sent back word to tell him I hope he's OK.

"But that's part of the league. I mean, no layups. He was coming down the lane hard, there was nobody there. I was just trying to impede him. . .

"I just found out Mario took a good hit yesterday too."

*

KNICKS BEAT HEAT: New York beats clock, dumps Miami in Game 5, 78-77.

HAWKS SURVIVE: After two losses, Atlanta ousts Detroit in Game 5.

Coverage, Page 7

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