2001 NBA Finals

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SI's Marty Burns' Breakdown
L.A. Lakers    San Antonio 
Shaquille O'Neal has been unstoppable in the postseason, averaging 30.7 points (on 55-percent shooting), 16.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. After finishing third (behind Duncan) in the MVP vote, he'll be out to prove a point. Plus, he went to high school in San Antonio and has never cared much personally for the Admiral.   CENTER

The Edge:

A steady force all season, 35-year-old David Robinson has looked spry this postseason (17.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks). He's got the size, length and savvy to defend Shaq, but he must pick his spots and avoid foul trouble. At the other end, he must hit his trademark high-post jumpers to pull Shaq out of the paint. 

Horace Grant has been quietly terrific in the postseason, keeping Rasheed Wallace and Chris Webber in check. Now the 35-year-old Grant must contend with Tim Duncan. Grant won't stop Duncan, but the three-time NBA champ will make him work for everything. On offense, Grant will look for his shot early, but then only when the Twin Towers leave him to double Shaq. At small forward, Rick Fox's main task will be to stay out on the Spurs' 3-point shooters. He also needs to shoot better than the 1-of-15 from beyond the arc he managed against San Antonio in the season series.   FORWARDS

The Edge:

Tim Duncan has been typically superb in the playoffs, averaging 25.0 points, 15.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Against L.A., he must be aggressive early and try to get Grant in foul trouble. If he does, the Lakers might have to use Shaq to guard him, something they don't want to do. Danny Ferry gets the starting nod at small forward, though he shares time with Sean Elliott. Ferry was among the NBA's top 3-point shooters (44.9 percent), but he's not a good perimeter defender. The Spurs might need to go with Elliott if L.A. goes small and Bryant slides up to small forward. 

Kobe Bryant has bounced back from his late-season injuries and taken his game to another level. His 48-point, 16-rebound performance against the Game 4 clincher against the Kings was a masterpiece. Bryant should get plenty of opportunities to shine here with the Twin Towers focusing on Shaq. He must be patient and focus on defense as much as scoring. Point guard Derek Fisher is an underrated contributor who provides ball pressure and clutch 3-point shooting. The Lakers are 22-5 since he returned from a foot injury.  GUARDS

The Edge:

Antonio Daniels stepped into the starting lineup for the injured Derek Anderson (separated shoulder) against the Mavericks, and the Spurs didn't miss a beat. He can run the floor and hit 3-pointers, but he's not the defender or one-on-one player that Anderson is. Against Bryant and the Lakers, Daniels will have to play extremely well. Terry Porter and Avery Johnson handle the point guard duties. Both are smart veterans who play steady and don't make mistakes. Porter is a 3-point threat, while AJ is better on the run and is the team's emotional leader. 

Robert Horry and Brian Shaw lead a steady Lakers reserve corps that also includes Ron Harper, Devean George and Mark Madsen. Horry, a 6-foot-10 forward, is a three-time NBA champion known for hitting big shots. He'll also be counted on to help defend Duncan in the post. Shaw and Harper are steady guards who can hit clutch shots and defend, but they're slow. L.A. would prefer not to rely much on George, a second-year pro, or the rookie Madsen. However, if Shaq or Grant gets in foul trouble, Madsen could get the call.   BENCH

The Edge:

With Johnson, Elliott, Malik Rose, Samaki Walker and Steve Kerr, the Spurs boast one of the deepest benches in the league. Johnson and Elliott are consummate pros who are always ready to come in and perform. Rose, a 6-foot-7 swing forward, is an underrated player who can bang on defense and run the floor on offense. Walker gives the Spurs a quality big man to spell the Twin Towers, while Kerr is one of the NBA's all-time great 3-point shooters. 

Phil Jackson has been Public Enemy No. 1 in San Antonio since he suggested the Spurs' '99 title should carry an asterisk because it came during a lockout-shortened season. However, Jackson is a proven playoff coach who backs up his mind games with excellent preparation. Seven NBA titles in nine years gives him the edge over any other NBA coach.   COACH

The Edge:

Gregg Popovich is the anti-Zen Master. Low-profile and blue-collar, he goes about his job intensely but with little fanfare. He won't get drawn into a war of words, but he'll make his team aware of what is said in the press and try to use it as motivation. He proved he could win a title in '99, but he doesn't have the vast Finals experience of Jackson. 

Having won 15 in a row, including playoff sweeps of the Blazers and Kings, the Lakers are confident. Shaq and Kobe seem to be on the same page again, and the rest of the cast is healthy. They are peaking at the right time, and their experience in winning last year's title should carry them through any adversity they might face.   INTANGIBLES

The Edge:

The Spurs know they can beat L.A., having won 10 of their past 13 meetings. In addition, they should be extra-motivated to make Jackson eat his words and put an asterisk next to the Lakers' title of a year ago. Home-court advantage also could be a factor, since the Spurs were a league-best 33-8 (along with Sacramento) at the Alamodome this season.  

Bryant. He has the talent to take over this series, but has shown a tendency in the past to try to do too much. With Shaq likely to be bottled up by the Twin Towers, Kobe will get lots of looks. He must resist the temptation to try to take over, because it tends to disrupt the offensive flow and makes his teammates passive defensively.   'X' FACTOR

The Edge:

Daniels. As the replacement for the injured Anderson, all eyes will be on him. But he can't try to replace Anderson's 16.1 points per game. Like Bryant, he must not try to do too much or it could take his team out of its game plan. He must run the floor and hit shots when left open, and he must play the series of his life defensively against Bryant.  
Burns' Prediction: Lakers in 6


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