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NBA PLAYOFFS REVIEW / WESTERN CONFERENCE

Only One Can Survive in This Stronghold

April 18, 2003|Mark Heisler

It may be true, as everyone says, that the road to the title runs through Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the Lakers, their road runs through Minnesota, San Antonio and Sacramento, where Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 of each of those series would be played.

The three-time defending champions finished the season looking more like their once-mighty selves, closing 39-13 after an 11-19 start. The question is, is that still good enough?

The Spurs, who have three players -- Tim Duncan, Malik Rose, David Robinson -- from their '99 champions, (are no longer defense-oriented grinders with marginal firepower. Now, with athletes like Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili, they're up-tempo and high-scoring.

The Kings, the NBA's deepest team, are tough enough too, with last spring's revelation, Cool Hand Mike Bibby, and Chris Webber starting to answer the rap that he wilts in the clutch.

The Spurs, Kings and Lakers are considered co-favorites. Dallas, which started 48-14, finished with 60 wins and barely rates a mention.

In this conference, not all the strong survive.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

PHOENIX (44-38, 8th) vs.SAN ANTONIO (60-22, 1st)

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Saturday...at San Antonio, 2:30 p.m.

Monday...at San Antonio, 5 p.m.

April 25...at Phoenix, 7 p.m.

April 27...at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.

April 29...at San Antonio, TBA*

May 1...at Phoenix, TBA*

May 3...at San Antonio, TBA*

*--* Season series: Suns, 3-1 Series preview: Phoenix won the season series and in its one loss, at San Antonio, it took the Spurs into overtime. That's a comfort to Sun fans, at least. The Suns think they have an unguardable ace in the hole in Stephon Marbury, who averaged 32 points against the Spurs. Actually, the Spurs have several defenders (Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili) who can play him, unless Marbury has his outside shot going. For their part, the Spurs are bigger, deeper, play better defense and have Tim Duncan, whom the Suns really can't guard Key injuries: SA: Tim Duncan (knee); PHO: Bo Outlaw (jaw) Coaches' postseason records: SA: Gregg Popovich (31-22, 1 NBA title); PHO: Frank Johnson (0-0) MATCHUPS PHO SA Points per game 95.5 (13) 95.8 (12) Opp. points per game 94.4 (14) 90.4 (3) Shooting % 443 (13) 462 (4) Opp. shooting % 438 (12) 427 (2) Total rebounds 42.5 (13) 42.6 (11) Opp. total rebounds 42.9 (19) 40.9 (7) Three-point % 343 (18) 354 (11) Opp. Three-point % 320 (2) 339 (7) Free-throw % 742 (22) 725 (26) Assists 21.0 (17) 20.0 (22) Steals 8.11 (12) 7.7 (17) Blocks 4.9 (17) 6.5 (1) Record scoring 100+ 21-7 28-1 Record opp. score 100+ 7-19 10-7 Prediction: We're going with the guy shooting from 10 feet as opposed to the guy shooting from 20-plus. Spurs, 4-1

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*--* UTAH (47-35, 7th) vs. SACRAMENTO (59-23, 2nd)

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Saturday...at Sacramento, 7:30 p.m.

Monday...at Sacramento, 7:30 p.m.

April 26...at Utah, 7 p.m.

April 28...at Utah, 7:30 p.m.

April 30...at Sacramento, TBA*

May 2...at Utah, TBA*

May 4...at Sacramento, TBA*

*--* Season series: Kings, 3-1 Series preview: One takes the deadly-earnest Jazz lightly at his own peril but the Kings are a hard match for the old guys, opening up the floor and making it hard for their elders to cover them. Except for two games in December, the Kings didn't have their best players together until March and still did all right. Chris Webber had his best season, the Mike Bibby-Bobby Jackson tandem is fearsome and that still leaves one more All-Star, Peja Stojakovic. With Matt Harpring giving Utah another 17-point scorer, the Jazz rose from a 3-7 start to turn into a reasonable facsimile of its '90s teams that went to the NBA Finals. The difference is the Jazz is older now and the Kings, Spurs and Lakers are better Key injuries: SAC: none; UT: none Coaches' postseason records: SAC: Rick Adelman (53-50); UT: Jerry Sloan (77-76) MATCHUPS UT SAC Points per game 94.7 (17) 101.7 (3) Opp. points per game 92.3 (6) 95.2 (17) Shooting % 468 (1) 464 (3) Opp. shooting % 434 (6) 420 (1) Total rebounds 41.5 (20) 44.5 (3) Opp. total rebounds 38.2 (1) 45.9 (29) Three-point % 349 (15) 381 (3) Opp. Three-point % 349 (16) 320 (1) Free-throw % 745 (20) 746 (18) Assists 25.6 (1) 24.8 (3) Steals 8.6 (7) 9.0 (2) Blocks 5.7 (9) 5.6 (12) Record scoring 100+ 19-4 38-11 Record opp. score 100+ 4-19 8-18 Prediction: Kings, 4-2

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*--* PORTLAND (50-32, 6th) vs. DALLAS (60-22, 3rd)

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Saturday...at Dallas, 5 p.m.

Wednesday...at Dallas, 6:30 p.m.

April 25...at Portland, 7:30 p.m.

April 27...at Portland, 5 p.m.

April 30...at Dallas, TBA*

May 2...at Portland, TBA*

May 4...at Dallas, TBA*

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