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Win over Mavs sets up series between last two NBA champs

Spurs: Bring on Los Angeles

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

SAN ANTONIO -- Despite all the barbs the Los Angeles Lakers have thrown, the San Antonio Spurs haven't fought back.

Now they're going to get their chance.

Tim Duncan had 32 points and 20 rebounds as San Antonio cruised past the Dallas Mavericks 105-87 Monday night, sending the 1999 champion Spurs to the Western Conference finals against the defending champion Lakers.

''This is the series everybody wanted,'' Duncan said. ''I don't know if we wanted it.''

The showdown, which starts Saturday in San Antonio, will be the first conference finals pitting the two previous NBA champions since 1985. It's only the fifth such matchup in league history.

This one comes with some baggage to it. Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal called the Spurs a WNBA team last summer and coach Phil Jackson has said San Antonio's title deserves an asterisk because it came in the lockout-shortened season.

''It's a good series to hype up, isn't it?'' said San Antonio's David Robinson, the target of some harsh words in O'Neal's recent book. ''They've been playing great basketball, their best of the year, and our level of basketball has been extremely high. This is exciting. No question this is a big series.''

After blowing a chance for a sweep Saturday in Dallas, the Spurs made it clear from the start of this game that they wanted to prepare for the Lakers and not go back up I-35 for a sixth game.

Duncan and Robinson threw down dunks for San Antonio's first two baskets and a 3-pointer by Danny Ferry put the Spurs up by double digits within eight minutes.

The Spurs, who trailed by 17 early in losing Game 4, made 15 of their first 20 shots and led by at least 11 for the final three quarters.

''You could tell from the moment everyone walked in this morning that everyone was extremely focused,'' said Antonio Daniels, who set his playoff high with 19 points and nine assists.

Dallas, which had won four straight elimination games this postseason, didn't have the energy -- or accuracy -- to come back.

Except for Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a career-high 42 points and had 18 rebounds, the Mavericks resumed the inept shooting that cost them the first three games of the series. Michael Finley missed 16 of 17 shots and Dallas was 0-for-11 on 3-pointers.

''Worst game of my life,'' Finley said. ''Being that it was the biggest game of my life, I didn't give my team a chance.''

Dallas, which in the first round became the sixth team to win a five-game series after losing the first two, became the 64th team unable to overcome an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game series.

But the Mavs can feel good about their best season in 13 years. They won 53 games and upset Utah in the first round.

''It's a disappointment to end the season on a blowout,'' said Nowitzki, who had his fourth game with at least 30 points this postseason, the first in a loss. ''But maybe it's better than ending on a one-point loss. That'd be even more frustrating.''

O'Neal will make things tougher on the inside than Dallas' thin tandem of Shawn Bradley and Calvin Booth. Shaq's Lakers, who wrapped up a sweep of Sacramento on Sunday, split the season series with San Antonio 2-2.

But the Spurs have home-court advantage against Los Angeles and they're 5-0 at the Alamodome this postseason. The home fans were already looking forward to the next round by chanting ''Beat LA!'' in the final minutes against Dallas.

Steve Kerr, who won several titles playing for Jackson, doesn't expect his former coach to fan the rivalry's flames.

''He might kill us with kindness to change things up a bit,'' Kerr said.

Another trait San Antonio will carry into the Lakers series is its regular-season ability to blow out opponents.

After winning an NBA-best 40 games by at least 10 points, the Spurs have won six of their seven postseason games by at least 13 points. Their average margin over Dallas was 15.5.

This is the sixth time the Spurs have made the conference finals. They faced the Lakers in 1982 and '83, losing both times. San Antonio's only NBA Finals appearance was in 1999, when it beat New York for the championship.

Notes: The last time the Western Conference finals featured the two previous champions was Los Angeles-Milwaukee in 1972. Boston, the 1984 champ, and 1983 champ Philadelphia met in the East finals in '85. The other conference finals meetings between the last two champions were Boston-Philadelphia ('58) and Minneapolis-Rochester ('52). The '52 and '58 matchups were during the era of two rounds of playoffs. ... After making 18 of 19 free throws in Game 4, Dallas missed three of its first 11. ... Although San Antonio has made six conference finals, this is only the fifth in the West. The Spurs played Washington in the Eastern Conference finals in 1979.



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