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Spurs Hoping Time Has Come

May 03, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

Laker Coach Phil Jackson once joked that the San Antonio Spurs should have an asterisk beside their 1998-99 NBA title because it was won in a lockout-shortened season that did not include him as coach.

The remark upset San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, but they haven't done much to make Jackson eat his words. The Lakers have knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs on their way to NBA titles the last two seasons.

But this is a new playoff season and the Spurs are back again. Only this time, they really believe this is their year after winning all four games against the Lakers during the regular season.

That's why many are saying that the team that wins this series will win it all. A breakdown:

SAN ANTONIO'S MOVE -- In the first round, the Spurs eliminated the Phoenix Suns in six games but looked shaky at times. Other than Tim Duncan and David Robinson, San Antonio has a number of players who will have to prove that they can handle playoff pressure for an entire series.

Point guard Tony Parker, who has had success against the Lakers, struggled early against the Suns but played with confidence in the Spurs' last three victories in the series. Parker will have to make perimeter shots for the Spurs' pick-and-roll plays to work with Duncan. But the worst thing that can happen for the Spurs is for Parker to try to carry the offense.

Although he wasn't much of a factor against the Lakers the last two playoffs, Robinson, who'll retire after this season, could be the difference-maker for the Spurs. In the first round, he averaged nearly 10 points and nine rebounds against the Suns. San Antonio would gladly take those numbers, along with some defense, against the Lakers.

What makes the Spurs a different team is the emergence of swingmen Stephen Jackson and Emanuel Ginobili. Because of their shooting range and athletic ability, they will provide a different type of challenge for the Laker perimeter players, who feasted on the Spurs' previous selection of limited swingmen.

LAKERS' MOVE -- The best thing about the Lakers' first-round victory over Minnesota was Shaquille O'Neal's agility over the last two games of the series. If he plays like that against San Antonio, the Spurs will have the same problems the Timberwolves had.

Look for the Spurs to double-team O'Neal to keep the ball out of his hands because they do not want him to find his groove early in the series. San Antonio did a good job against O'Neal during the regular season with an assortment of junk defenses. Expect the Spurs to do more of the same to keep O'Neal guessing.

San Antonio will start off with Bruce Bowen on Kobe Bryant and then will send Jackson, Ginobili and even Steve Smith at him. The more fresh bodies, the better because if the Spurs stay committed to slowing down O'Neal, Bryant will often have single coverage. The key will be for Bryant to pace himself because the Spurs will also try to make him work on defense.

Derek Fisher, Devean George and Robert Horry will find themselves open often. But even if the role players are making their perimeter shots, they have to stay aggressive and be willing to take the ball to the basket.

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