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Monday, May 10, 2004
Mailman: 'They're still in the driver's seat'

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- For the Los Angeles Lakers, it was the game of the year -- a performance they'd love to repeat.

As for the San Antonio Spurs, maybe they were just due for a clunker.

Whatever the case, Sunday's 105-81 romp was simply one win for the Lakers and one loss for the Spurs in their Western Conference semifinals, leaving San Antonio with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game 4 will be played Tuesday night.

"They're still in the driver's seat -- we just want to tie it up," Lakers forward Karl Malone said Monday.

"Their key guys didn't have a good game," teammate Shaquille O'Neal said. "I expect them to have a better game tomorrow."

The Spurs couldn't play much more poorly if they tried, having shot 34.1 percent and committing 21 turnovers in Game 3.

That's only a part of it.

"Our defense was very soft," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We played as if we thought somebody was going to give us something. I was really disappointed."

But Popovich and his players made one thing clear -- it wasn't just them.

"They helped us lay that egg. I thought the whole [San Antonio] team was discombobulated," Popovich said.

"We know we're playing a great team," said Robert Horry, who joined the Spurs this season after 6½ seasons with the Lakers. "We know we had a bad game, a really bad game -- part due to us, part due to them."

O'Neal was at his dominating best with 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocked shots. He shot 11-of-13, leading the Lakers to a 56.9 percent effort from the floor.

"When we're playing like that, nobody's going to beat us," O'Neal said. "I urged my teammates to keep me involved. If they keep me involved, I'll lead us -- I sure will."

Asked why the Lakers have had such a difficult time sustaining the kind of intensity they displayed Sunday, O'Neal was at a loss for words.

"I don't know, I don't know," he finally said.

Malone, Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton also were exceptional at both ends of the court in Game 3.

"The intensity was great. We have to bring more technique to it," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "You always have to play with some great intensity on defense. We've been building toward that in the playoffs."

San Antonio stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined for 104 points in the first two games. Game 3 was a much different story. Duncan shot 4-of-14 while scoring 10 points and Parker was 4-of-12 for eight points.

"I'm not one that likes to lose. I was a big part of us losing yesterday," Duncan said. "It's very disappointing. It's a lot about execution. They made some tweaks in their game plan, and they executed very well. They took Tony and myself out of it."

The loss snapped the Spurs' 17-game winning streak and was their first loss since March 23.

"That's a long run, and we played some good teams," Horry said.

So, were they due?

"You hate to say that, but it might be true," Duncan said.

"They were due for a loss, we were due to play better," Lakers forward Rick Fox said.

"Everybody wants to make amends for the poor showing," San Antonio's Bruce Bowen said.

The Lakers practiced Monday without Kobe Bryant, who began three days of pretrial hearings in Eagle, Colo., on his sexual assault case.

That means for the fourth time this season and second in the playoffs, Bryant will rush home to play in a game following a day in court.

Then it's back to Colorado and Wednesday with a trip to San Antonio to follow for Game 5 on Thursday night.

"We worry about what's going on with the San Antonio Spurs," Bowen replied when asked about Bryant's situation. "It's unfortunate what's going on with Kobe right now, but we could care less. He's the enemy."

Jackson said he will speak with Bryant before Game 4 concerning strategy and adjustments.

"He hasn't shown a great deal of difficulty coming back from those trips and playing those games," Jackson said. "A lot of times, I talk to him about the minutes he wants to play, how he feels about it. We're going to have to have a very potent Kobe to win."