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CONFERENCE FINALS

Lakers hoping to take flight

Up 2-0, they'd like to avoid a return to Texas, or even sweep to obviate a Spurs return to L.A. But Spurs, at home, will be resistant to concept.

May 25, 2008|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

One victory was a snap, the other a squeaker.

Now it's on to San Antonio and back, with, the Lakers hope, no 0.4 heroics necessary. And, if matters are handled, no return flight for the Spurs necessary either.

It was deep in the heart of Texas, in 2004, where Derek Fisher's late shot buoyed the Lakers on their way to a Western Conference semifinal victory over the Spurs.

That was the Lakers' last playoff game in San Antonio. Tonight they're back with a chance to put a serious stranglehold on this year's Western Conference finals, an opportunity to go up, 3-0.

The Lakers blew away the Spurs for a 101-71 victory at Staples Center in Game 2 on Friday, two nights after they won Game 1 by rallying from a 20-point third-quarter deficit -- wins Fisher labeled refreshing.

"We've been able to sustain our effort and our energy and win both games under totally different circumstances but still figure out a way to win," a relaxed Fisher said Saturday. .

Since trailing, 65-45, with 5:54 left in the third quarter of Game 1, the Lakers have outscored the Spurs, 145-91.

Still, Kobe Bryant says there are matters to improve, screws to tighten.

"There's certain areas there, where we have to minimize their open looks," Bryant said. "Some of those shots if they knock down, all of a sudden it cuts a 12-point lead into a nine-point lead and things can kind of get mucked up. Those are the shots that they aren't going to miss the next game."

Both teams have been in this situation before in this postseason. Both used it to advance to this situation now.

In the second round, two Lakers losses in Utah were flanked by their four victories against the Jazz. And the Spurs lost the first two games in New Orleans before rallying to eliminate the Hornets in seven games.

"We are going to go home and one of two things are going to happen," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "We are either going to make this a series, or not."

Or not would be the Lakers' choice.

The Spurs are 6-0 this postseason at the AT&T Center, and have enjoyed many previous playoff victories at home.

They did not practice Saturday, Coach Gregg Popovich opting to rest a team that is suddenly showing its age.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson noted fatigue in the Spurs on Friday night, but said he doesn't expect the same today.

"They're going to be home," Jackson said. "They're going to sleep in their own beds, they'll have their own sustenance, support at home. They'll be much more energized, I think."

No earplugs may be required at AT&T Center, unlike at EnergySolutions Arena in Utah.

Still, some hostility and hard times are expected.

"It's a really long walk from the dressing room to the floor," Jackson deadpanned, before adding: "They really play well on their home floor. They've played well on their home floor since it's been built, really. But it's one of the things you are going to contend with."

Added Fisher: "This series is far from over. It's probably going to be even more than what we expect as far as the intensity and how hard they're going to be playing and how focused we are going to have to be to try to go out there and come out with a win. We are going to have to be even more ready than we were last time."

The Lakers expected the Spurs to come out firing Friday, especially after coughing up their lead in Game 1.

It didn't happen. So, once again, the Lakers say they will be waiting if San Antonio, which has won four of the last nine NBA titles, opts to make this into a series.

"They're going to be hungry," Lamar Odom said. "This is a team that's won championships before, they know what it takes. We have to get ready for a fight."

Which is why Jackson drilled his team on details and precision Saturday.

That said, everything is looking pretty rosy for the Lakers, which brings up the question of whether some of their younger players might find complacency in success.

"Not at all," Bryant said, smiling. "I won't let that happen. I crack the whip."

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Bryant's Game 1 performance has been much debated, with him feeling out the defense in a two-point, three-shot first half and catching fire in a 25-point second half.

Magic Johnson's take:

"I thought it was a great move by [Bryant]," the former Lakers great said on TNT. "As the MVP and the best player in the series, he had to feel out the game [and say], 'How are [the Spurs] double-teaming me, how are they going to play me?'

"And he was trying to get his players involved in the game. In the beginning, they were missing shots and turning the ball over. It was the perfect approach and he didn't use up all his energy in the first half. And he was able to close out the game in the fourth quarter."

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Manu Ginobili has struggled in the series. If he keeps struggling, the Lakers expect, so will the Spurs.

Ginobili, battling a jammed ankle and torn fingernail, scored 17 points on five-for-21 shooting in the first two games.

"He's such a rhythm player and a streaky player, he knocks down a couple of those shots and all of a sudden, he starts playing with a lot more confidence," Bryant said.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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