Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lakers and Spurs Renew a Rivalry


The Spurs-Lakers rivalry has been on hiatus since 2004 for one simple reason: The Lakers have not been very good. They are now.

So two of the N.B.A.’s dominant teams of the past decade meet again, with the winner taking a giant step toward another possible championship. The Lakers and the Spurs have combined to win seven of the last nine championships.

The Lakers and Spurs begin another playoff series tonight at Staples Center, their sixth meeting in the last 10 seasons, part of a rivalry in which familiarity breeds mild contempt and, often, an NBA title.

Not to be forgotten, Popovich had a problem with the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol in February.

"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," he told reporters shortly after Gasol arrived from the Grizzlies. "I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I'd like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."

Fast forward to Tuesday, and the Spurs were already a step behind the Lakers.

The Spurs planned to fly Monday night from New Orleans to Los Angeles after eliminating the Hornets, 91-82, but they ended up spending the night on the team plane as it sat near the airport tarmac in New Orleans because of mechanical problems.

The Lakers and the Spurs last met at this stage of the playoffs seven years ago, with the Lakers sweeping the Spurs on their way to a 15-1 postseason record. The teams met in the conference semifinals in each of the next three years, with the Lakers winning twice, most recently in 2004, when they lost the first two games before winning the last four.

Game 5 had a classic finish, with the Spurs’ Tim Duncan making what appeared to be a game-winning jump shot from the top of the key, but Derek Fisher made a turnaround jumper with .4 seconds to play to clinch the game.

“I’m sure it will come up a lot,” said Fisher, who left the Lakers after the 2003-4 season but returned this season.

“Hopefully, we won’t need anything remotely close to that to win.”

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