Friday , Apr , 30 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

LOS ANGELES LAKERS: 2nd Seed, West (56-26)

SAN ANTONIO SPURS: 3rd Seed, West (57-25)

(Sports Network) – It doesn’t get any better than this, as the defending
champion San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers square off in the
Western Conference semifinals.

The last five NBA championships have been won by these two teams, as the Spurs
captured the title in 1999 and 2003, while the Lakers won the championship
three straight years from 2000-02.

The teams are meeting for the fourth straight year in the postseason. Last
season, San Antonio eliminated the Lakers, 4-2, in the conference semifinals.
However, the Lakers knocked off the Spurs 4-1 in the 2002 semis, and swept San
Antonio in the 2001 West finals.

The Spurs and Lakers also faced each other in the playoffs in 1982, 1983,
1986, 1988, 1995 and 1999. In 1986 and 1988, the Lakers swept the Spurs out of
the first round in three games. In 1982 and 1983, LA eliminated San Antonio in
the conference finals.

San Antonio defeated the Lakers in 1995 and 1999 in the conference semifinals.
In 1995 the Spurs beat LA in six games and in 1999 San Antonio swept the
Lakers in four straight.

Even though the Lakers, who won the Pacific Division, are a higher seed than
the Spurs, the home-court advantage in this best-of-seven series belongs to
San Antonio because it had a better record during the regular season.

San Antonio comes into this series having won 15 in a row dating back to the
regular season. The sizzling Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies, who were
making their first postseason appearance in franchise history, out of the
playoffs in the first round. San Antonio dominated the first two games at the
SBC Center, winning Game 1 by 24 points and Game 2 by 17.

In Games 3 and 4, which were played at The Pyramid, San Antonio took home a
two-point win and wrapped up the series with a convincing 13-point victory in
the final contest.

All-Star forward Tim Duncan had a strong series for the Spurs against Memphis,
averaging a team-highs in points (24.3 ppg) and rebounds (10 rpg). He also
dished out three assists per game and blocked 2.5 shots.

Point guard Tony Parker was the perfect complement for Duncan against the
Grizzlies. He netted 21 points per game and handed out a team-high 8.5 assists
per game.

Former Laker Robert Horry, who won three championship rings with LA, took his
game to the next level against Memphis. The 33-year-old Horry, who has played
in 169 games in the postseason over his 12-year career, averaged 11 points and
8.3 boards which was much more productive than 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per
game during the regular season.

The Lakers eliminated the Houston Rockets in five games in the first round. LA
won Games 1,2 and 5 at home and split Games 3 and 4 with the Rockets at the
Toyota Center.

Los Angeles improved to 29-0 all-time when leading a best-of-seven
series 3-1. The Lakers, who are 29-2 all-time in first-round matchups,
have won 18 of their last 22 games dating back to the regular season.

All-Star guard Kobe Bryant had a strong first round for the Lakers, as he led
the team in scoring (24.4 ppg) and assists (6.2 apg). Fellow All-Star
Shaquille O’Neal averaged 16.2 points and a team-high 11.2 rebounds against
the Rockets.

O’Neal has been bothered by a sore knee, which could be a problem against the
Spurs.

Forty-year-old forward Karl Malone came up huge for LA in the first round. He
averaged 18 points and 10.4 boards. In Game 4 against the Rockets, Malone
scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 92-88
overtime victory.

In the regular season, the Lakers won three of the four contests with the
Spurs. LA defeated San Antonio twice at the SBC Center, while the squads
splits a pair of games at the Staples Center.

FRONTCOURT: To go along with Duncan on the frontcourt, San Antonio has center
Radoslav Nesterovic, who left Minnesota to sign with the Spurs as a free agent
last offseason, and defensive stopper Bruce Bowen, who was named to the NBA’s
All-Defensive First Team.

Duncan is the obvious force for the Spurs, but Nesterovic and Bowen fill their
roles extremely well. The 27-year-old Nesterovic was not a huge factor against
Memphis. He averaged just 5.5 points and six boards in the four games.

Bowen, who can knock down the jumper from beyond the arc, knows his role is to
play hard defense and frustrate his opponents into taking bad shots. He
checked in with eight points and 3.8 rebounds per game against the Grizzlies.
Bowen’s impact on game does not always show up on the stat sheet.

The Lakers have the dominant force in the middle in Shaq, while veterans
Malone and Rick Fox, who has been bothered by a finger injury, are playoff
tested.

Both teams have dominant players in O’Neal and Duncan. The All-Stars will get
their points and rebounds. However, consistency will be the key here, as
O’Neal and Duncan’s supporting cast will have to bring it every game as well.

EDGE: EVEN

BACKCOURT: LA’s Bryant and Payton against San Antonio’s Parker and Hedo
Turkoglu

Even though Bowen is a forward, he will factor heavily into this matchup.
Bowen will most likely guard Bryant, while Turkoglu will check Fox.

A six-time All-Star, Bryant has proven over-and-over that when the game is on
the line he is as clutch a player as there is in the NBA. He will be put to
the test by Bowen’s tenacious defense, but will find a way to score his
points.

Turkoglu is inconsistent, but when he is on he can be deadly from anywhere on
the court. In the first round, the former Sacramento King averaged 10 points
and 5.8 rebounds, as he shot 41.9 percent from the field, including 42.9
percent from three-point range.

The 14-year veteran Payton, like Malone, is trying to win his first
championship ring. He knows this is the key series and will bring his
leadership and tough defensive style to the table for the Lakers. Payton, who
averaged just 8.4 points and 5.6 assists against Houston, will need to be a
force for LA.

Payton and Parker will go head-to-head. Both players are excellent at getting
the ball to their big men and also have the ability to score as well. This
matchup will be overshadowed by Duncan vs. Shaq, but make no mistake that two
of the league’s best point guards will be going head-to-head and the results
will have a major impact on the outcome of this series.

EDGE: LAKERS

BENCH: Both teams have solid benches, as the Spurs reserves consist of Manu
Ginobili, Malik Rose, Charlie Ward and Horry. The Lakers call on Derek Fisher,
Devean George, Kareem Rush and Slava Medvedenko.

Horry and Ginobili proved against Memphis that the Spurs can depended on them.
Ginobili, who averaged 10.5 points and four rebounds in the first round, is
capable of being a force offensively.

Ward and Rose did not get a lot of playing time against the Grizzlies, but
both could see more action in this round.

Fisher and George should see the most time off the bench for LA. Fisher can
play with either Bryant or Payton, while George gives the Lakers a sub for Fox
as well as player who can spell Bryant and cause some matchup problems for the
Lakers’ opponents.

Rush and Medvedenko provide depth for LA and are able to play important
minutes if needed.

EDGE: SPURS

COACH: Phil Jackson led the Lakers to three titles in his first four years in
LA. He guided the Chicago Bulls to six championships and knows what it takes
to win the postseason. If LA hits a tough spot, Jackson knows how to calm the
storm.

Gregg Popovich has guided the Spurs to a pair of NBA championships. He
was named the 2003 NBA Coach of the Year and has led San Antonio to the NBA’s
best regular season record three times (1998-99, 2000-01, 2002-03). Popovich
knows what it takes to win the big game.

Both coaches have won the big game.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: This is the one that everyone has been waiting for. Duncan vs.
Shaq is the main event, but their supporting casts will decide this series.

SPURS IN SEVEN

LAL SAN