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NBA PLAYOFFSSAN ANTONIO VS. LAKERS / SERIES REPORT

Scouting Report

May 05, 2003|Tim Brown

Come regular season or playoffs, first-team All-NBA players Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant get their combined 60 points, a fact with which opposing coaches have learned to live. Robert Horry, rangy enough to pester San Antonio power forward Tim Duncan, the league's two-time MVP, probably starts alongside O'Neal and Devean George in the front court. Point guard Derek Fisher was one of two Lakers -- Bryant was the other -- to start all 82 regular-season games. Center David Robinson, a certain Hall of Famer, will retire after the Spurs' final game. Spur guards Stephen Jackson and Tony Parker and forward Bruce Bowen are quick but not particularly physical.

Edge: Lakers.

*--* STARTERS

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*--* BENCH

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Rick Fox's season-ending foot injury moved George into the starting lineup, leaving one of the Lakers' weakest areas weaker still. In Thursday's close-out game against Minnesota, Coach Phil Jackson played every starter at least 37 minutes. Among the reserves, only versatile Brian Shaw played more than 12 minutes. Mark Madsen will have his hands full with Duncan, and rookie guard Jannero Pargo could prove useful end-to-end against Parker. For the Spurs, Malik Rose is a power forward who can make a medium-range jump shot and spend a few minutes defending O'Neal, despite giving away at least five inches and 75 pounds. Rookie Manu Ginobili averaged 9.3 points in only 20.8 minutes in four regular-season games against the Lakers. If Parker falters, as he did early in the Spurs' first-round series against Phoenix, Speedy Claxton will play. Steve Smith rarely plays anymore.

Edge: Spurs.

*--* OFFENSE

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For years, the Spurs preferred a half-court game, better suited for the inside-out game presided over by Duncan and Robinson. While Duncan remains their best option -- he led the team with 18.7 points, 16 rebounds and 5.2 assists a game in six first-round games against the Suns -- the Spurs occasionally let Jackson, Parker and Ginobili run. The Spurs averaged 95.8 points against the league, and 95.8 in four games against the Lakers, all wins. All five Laker starters scored in double figures -- a rarity -- in the final two games of the first round, while Fisher found his three-point stroke. Bryant loved to shoot in the old Alamodome, where he killed the Spurs, but was only 19 for 55 in two games at the new SBC Center. O'Neal wants the ball, almost always a good sign for the Lakers.

Edge: Lakers.

*--* DEFENSE

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The Lakers got a handle on the Timberwolves in the final few games, playing high pick-and-rolls more responsibly and even occasionally doubling Kevin Garnett, even though the double-team is not a favorite of Phil Jackson's. The more active O'Neal is, the better the Lakers are. Bryant is a regular on the NBA's All-Defense team. In the regular season, the Lakers were last in the league in defending the three-pointer. The Spurs were one of the best defensive teams in the league, statistically the best in the Western Conference. Duncan, Robinson and Rose give them a chance at defending O'Neal, and Bowen gamely -- if not always effectively -- guards Bryant.

Edge: Spurs.

*--* COACHING

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Gregg Popovich was the NBA's coach of the year, apparently because he somehow dragged 60 wins out of a team that has the league MVP in the middle. Popovich received credit for changing his philosophy with his roster, adapting to its up-tempo tendencies. Jackson got two votes, a second and a third, as the Lakers wobbled to 50 wins. He has won 25 consecutive playoff series, three consecutive championships, nine overall, and is the best coach in the game.

Edge: Lakers.

*--* KEY TO THE SERIES

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The Spurs were eliminated by the Lakers in five games last year, though they led in the fourth quarter in each of those games. Poor free-throw shooting and late turnovers fueled rallies by the Suns in the Spurs' first-round series, and could again be a factor in this series. The Lakers typically are at their best in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Timberwolves by an average of nine points in the last period in the final three games of the series.

Edge: Lakers.

Prediction: Lakers in six games.

-- Tim Brown

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