LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers are going to the
conference finals again, but it's been a struggle.
Kobe Bryant insists that will help the two-time champions.
"I think it helps us out a lot," Bryant said after scoring 10
of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a
93-87 victory over San Antonio on Thursday night, enabling them to
win the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series in five
"We have a rhythm of playing in tight games, pressure
situations," said Bryant, who also had eight rebounds and five
assists. "We expect to win every game. Some teams play to lose. We
definitely have a swagger about us."
A basket by Bryant with 2:27 remaining snapped an 83-all tie and
triggered a 10-4 game-closing run as the Lakers again handled the
Spurs down the stretch.
The Lakers outscored the Spurs 31-26 in the fourth quarter, and
125-88 in the final periods in the series after being outscored by
16 points in the opening three quarters.
"It's not the coach's favorite type of a game, to be honest
with you," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said with a smile.
The two-time defending NBA champion Lakers, 7-1 in these
playoffs and 23-2 in their last 25 postseason games, face the
Sacramento Kings in an All-California conference final beginning
Saturday at Arco Arena.
"This series is what we've been looking for. I think it's going
to be a dramatic one," Jackson said. "Obviously we are the
underdogs because we are starting this series out on the road, but
we do have the knowledge that we won three out of four against them
this year and have had some success against them in the last two
years of the playoffs."
The Lakers' starting backcourt of Bryant and Derek Fisher had no
"My guys did a great job looking out for me," O'Neal said.
The Lakers bring a playoff-record 11-game road winning streak
into their best-of-seven series against the Kings -- 8-0 last year
and 3-0 this year.
Arco Arena will also be the site of Monday night's second game
with Games 3 and 4 to be played at Staples Center.
The Lakers have won seven of their last eight against
Sacramento, starting with a four-game sweep in the second round of
last year's playoffs. They are also 16-5 against the Kings since
Jackson became their coach in 1999.
Tim Duncan had 34 points and a career playoff-high 25 rebounds
for the Spurs. Antonio Daniels added 15 points and Tony Parker
scored 14 while David Robinson had no points and three rebounds in
18 foul-plagued minutes.
"Same kind of game, same result," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
said. "It's disappointing obviously for us, but the Lakers played
like champions the last four or five minutes of every game we
Bryant's driving layup gave the Lakers an 85-83 lead. After
Fox's layup a minute later gave the Lakers a four-point lead, and
prompted a San Antonio timeout, the Staples Center crowd of 18,997
began chanting "Three-peat, three-peat."
The Lakers are nearly halfway there.
After Parker threw up an airball on a 3-pointer, the Lakers got
the ball to Robert Horry in the right corner, and he hit a
3-pointer to make it 90-83.
That would clinch it.
As was the case in each of the previous four games, the Spurs
led in the fourth quarter -- this time by as many as three points.
Robinson picked up his fourth personal foul in the opening 2 1/2
minutes of the third, taking a seat with the Spurs leading 49-44.
The Lakers had just started a 14-2 run, which Robert capped with
a short jumper that gave them a 53-51 lead -- their first since the
opening two minutes. Los Angeles led 62-61 entering the fourth.
Even though the Spurs lost in five games, they acquitted
themselves much better than last year, when the Lakers swept them
in four games in the conference finals, winning the last two by a
total of 68 points.
"I'm really excited how far we came from the beginning of the
year until now," Duncan said. "The Lakers proved to be more than
we could handle. I'm real proud of the effort we gave."
The Spurs led by as many as 13 points before settling for a
45-39 halftime lead. Duncan had 22 points and 16 of his team's 21
rebounds at the half. The entire Lakers' team had 14 rebounds at
The Lakers have won 10 straight playoff series under
Jackson. ... Jackson-coached teams have won a record 22 straight
playoff series starting with 12 in his final three years as coach
of the Chicago Bulls, from 1996-98. ... The Kings, 7-2 in these
playoffs, are the closest they've been to a championship since
1981, when they advanced to the conference finals while playing in
Kansas City. The franchise moved to Sacramento four years later.
... The Lakers have advanced to the conference finals 11 times
since the Kings last got there. ... Duncan reached double figures
in points and rebounds early in the second quarter. He led the NBA
with 67 double-doubles during the regular season.
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