'A great, tough series'
Twin Towers, Dynamic Duo face off Monday night
Posted: Sunday May 16, 1999 07:48 PM
Now, Shaquille O'Neal awaits.
The Los Angeles Lakers, after defeating the Houston Rockets 3-1 in the first round with a 98-88 victory Saturday, face the Spurs in the Alamodome on Monday night to start their best-of-7 Western Conference semifinals series.
"A great, tough series," O'Neal predicted Sunday. "We just have to do what we're capable of doing."
The Spurs beat Minnesota 92-85 on Saturday, wrapping up that series 3-1 in a physical game that saw -- among other skirmishes -- Mario Elie taking a Timberwolves elbow and needing stitches above his eye. And David Robinson getting a technical foul in a slapping and pushing match with Joe Smith.
"It's going to be as physical against L.A.," said point guard Avery Johnson. "Shaq is as physical as the whole Minnesota team put together."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was glad his team kept its concentration and advanced to the next round despite the aggression of the Timberwolves.
"What I was pleased about is that we maintained composure and our mental toughness," he said.
The Spurs will need that and more to get past the Lakers, who defeated San Antonio 2-1 during the regular season. The Lakers won two games against the Spurs in February, when San Antonio was only 6-8 for the month.
San Antonio won the last of the three games, in the Alamodome on April 24, during a stretch run that won the Spurs the Midwest Division title and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
"They ended the season on a tremendous upside," said Lakers coach Kurt Rambis. "They continued it in the playoffs. It's not going to be an easy series by any means."
O'Neal, with 37 points and 11 rebounds in the Los Angeles victory Saturday, is leading the league in scoring during the playoffs with an average of 29.5 points.
"He's playing great right now. You're not going to change that," Popovich said. "You're not going to hold him to five rebounds and 10 points. It's not going to happen.
"They have a lot of perimeter people. Hopefully, they all won't play."
Glen Rice, the Lakers' main outside shooting threat and one of the team's top scorers, missed Saturday's game against Houston with a sore elbow. He sat out Sunday's practice. His status is day to day.
O'Neal said he doesn't fear the Alamodome or Spurs 7-footers Robinson and Tim Duncan.
"No human being or stadium is going to break me," said the 7-foot-1, 315-pound O'Neal. "I know they respect my game. ... They have two great big men, and we have to keep it simple and play our game."
O'Neal relishes the thought of winning a game in San Antonio, where he went to high school.
"If we play hard, the sky is the limit," he said.
The Spurs prepared for the rough ride to come in the playoffs with their first-round series finale against Minnesota.
The usually mild-mannered Robinson, in his tangle with Smith, was already thinking ahead to the Spurs' upcoming game, whether it was to be a Game 5 with the Timberwolves or a semifinals series opener.
"After he slapped me in the back of the head, it got a little physical. I just had to think about, 'I don't want to be out of the next game so don't do anything stupid,' " Robinson said.
Robinson led the Spurs with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Duncan was limited to 16 points Saturday, well below his regular-season average of 21.7.
Robinson has faced O'Neal plenty of times, and he knows what to expect.
"He's going to get his opportunities," Robinson said. "You just try to keep him down and try not to let the other guys hurt you."
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