View Full Version : The best-laid schemes o' mice an' Stern gang aft agley....

05-15-2003, 08:29 AM
Dire straits

Lakers-Kings showdown no longer seems so inevitable

Lakers or Kings?

Kings or Lakers?

All season long, it was the only question that mattered in the NBA. Any discussion of what team would win the 2003 NBA title began and ended with those two powerhouse clubs.

Many believed Sacramento, toughened by last yearís heartbreaking near-miss, was ready to take the next step.

Others believed Los Angeles, with Shaq and Kobe, was still the team to beat.

Few gave the Spurs -- let alone the Mavs -- much chance to take home the Larry OíBrien Trophy in June.

Well, itís officially time to throw open the NBA title race again. Heck, let's throw the Nets into the mix while we're at it.

Thanks to a Texas Twister that roared over the NBA landscape Tuesday night, the Lakers and Kings suddenly find themselves on the brink of elimination.

In San Antonio, the Spurs blew a 25-point lead but survived when Robert Horryís game-winning 3-point attempt rimmed out at the buzzer. Like Sacramento last year, the Spurs canít put away the Lakers no matter how big a lead they build. Silly turnovers, terrible shots and missed free throws all contributed to what would have been a devastating loss.

The good news for San Antonio is that it has been able to get away with mostly single coverage on Shaq and Kobe. Instead of doubling them and leaving guys like Horry and Derek Fisher open, the Spurs are staying on the Lakers' role players and denying them good looks. Meanwhile, the Lakers are forced to double Tim Duncan and thatís opening the floor for Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson and Emanuel Ginobili.

Itís a good strategy, and it has worked for the most part. However, San Antonio has yet to show the mental toughness needed to drive a stake through the heart of the Lakers. If it goes to a Game 7 in San Antonio, the Spurs really are going to start feeling the pressure.

In Dallas, the Mavs used a 29-10 third quarter to squelch the Chris Webber-less Kings and take a 3-2 series lead. Inspired by a record home crowd at American Airlines Center, the Mavs stepped it up defensively. Even Dirk Nowitzki was blocking shots and moving his feet to stay in front of smaller guys.

But the Mavs also benefited greatly from foul trouble to Kings' centers Vlade Divac and Keon Clark. With Webber already out with a knee injury, the absence of Divac and Clark left Sacramento with few ways to exploit Dallasí soft interior defense. The Kingsí inability to make outside shots, in turn, helped ignite the Mavsí fast-break offense.

Like the Spurs, the Mavs seem to have confidence issues of their own. With a chance to bury Sacramento in Game 4, they rolled over. One gets the feeling that the Kings, who feel they got cheated a year ago, will find a way to force a Game 7 as well.

Near misses. Foul trouble. Injuries.

Whatever the reasons, the Lakers and Kings are in dire straits. Before the season, few would have believed it possible. But it sure has made these NBA playoffs a lot more fun.

05-15-2003, 11:11 AM
F'em!!! i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif