- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

SAN ANTONIO (AP) The San Antonio Spurs squandered decent fourth-quarter leads twice in Los Angeles. The first time turned into a tough loss. They barely hung on to win the second.
Late, gut-churning lapses aside, the Spurs have several reasons to feel good heading into tomorrow's Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the two-time defending champion Lakers.
Tuesday's 88-85 victory at Staples Center showed the many doubters that San Antonio is capable of something it couldn't do at all last year: beat the Lakers in the postseason.
And with the best-of-seven series even, the Spurs now have the homecourt edge. Three of the remaining five games would be played at the Alamodome, where the home team has lost only once since February.
"We gave away [Game 1] and we almost gave away this one," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after Game 2. "But we found a way to stick through it all the way until the end. We're ready to go home and play well, play a lot better than we did tonight."
San Antonio had a 21-point lead in the first half Tuesday, and were up 85-74 with 6:23 remaining. The Spurs made only one field goal and one free throw after that.
Duncan is expected to be officially announced today as the league's Most Valuable Player, giving the 30,000-plus San Antonio fans reason to be extra loud tomorrow.
The chances continue to improve that center David Robinson, seen only in street clothes thus far in the series, may finally be back to go against Shaquille O'Neal.
"It would be huge," Duncan said. "When Dave comes back, it will be an incredible boost for us."
Teammates concur, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offers a different viewpoint.
"I'm not sure it would be that big a deal," Popovich said yesterday in San Antonio. "We've been without him for a month, and we've gotten used to being without him."
The 7-foot-1 Robinson aggravated a disc in his lower back late in the regular season, and played only a few minutes in the first-round series against Seattle. Team officials say his back feels better, and that he's strengthening his right leg to overcome nerve irritation caused by the back injury.
While he wasn't in uniform Tuesday, teammates say Robinson used his savvy and experience to contribute to the win.
"He was like Nostradamus out there," Malik Rose said. "He was predicting runs, 'They're going to make a run, this is going to happen, that is going to happen, we have to do this, we have to do that,' and it happened. We took heed to what he was saying."
Popovich also downplayed any lift that comes from playing at home.
"In the playoffs, all of the teams are so good now," he said. "They've all done well on the road, so people are prepared no matter where they play."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who pulled Los Angeles back into Tuesday's game by scoring 20 points in the second half, said crowds count.
"They're going to have 36,000 fans hollering and screaming, Duncan's going to get the MVP award," he said. "There's going to be a lot of emotion in that game. We have to go up to San Antonio and play well in Game 3. I for one am looking forward to that."
Lakers reserve forward Samaki Walker, a member of the Spurs team that was swept by Los Angeles in last year's conference finals, says more important was San Antonio's ability to hold on.
"They had to be pretty scared being up 20 points and having us come back the way we did," Walker said. "This definitely breaks down the mental wall. They have beaten Goliath."


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