Spurs shrug off war of words as West final begins


Shaquille O’Neal writes derisively of David Robinson’s “goody two-shoes image” and calls the Spurs “a WNBA team.” Lakers coach Phil Jackson says the Spurs title in the short season two years ago should carry an asterisk, and that San Antonio plays the best zone defense in pro basketball. The Western Conference finals showdown everyone was waiting for is finally here. If was a war of words, it would be no contest. All the salvos have been fired from Los Angeles. “That’s how they roll, that’s what they do,” the Spurs’ Tim Duncan said. “That’s great for them. If it works for them, they keep on doing it, I guess. It doesn’t work for us. We just go out and play.” All week long, as the Spurs prepared for Saturday’s Game 1 at the Alamodome, they have been asked about O’Neal’s unflattering references to Robinson in Shaq’s autobiography, about the asterisk remark, about the zone defense. Asked what intimidates him most about O’Neal, Robinson said, “His writing,” then laughed. That’s as close as the Spurs got to a counterattack on Thursday. “There won’t be any war of words. I don’t waste my time on it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I guess you’ve got to retaliate to have a war, and I don’t see any reason to retaliate because I don’t feel attack. Words don’t mean a whole lot.” What does matter is the matchup itself — the 1999 champion Spurs, with the NBA’s best regular-season record, against the 2000 champion Lakers, on a 15-game winning streak. “We didn’t really get a chance to defend it the way we wanted to last year,” said Duncan, who was out with a knee injury in last season’s playoffs. “It’s just been coming. We’ve got two very good teams and a very good rivalry. There are going to be a lot of good games.” Even though the Spurs don’t show much emotion, they are fired up about this long awaited series. “Maybe we just handle things differently. Maybe we come at it a little bit differently, but for us, it’s huge,” Robinson said. “It’s exciting. It’s everything. It’s what you look forward to growing up as a basketball player. You say, `Man, this is it.’ We’re on the center stage. The two top teams in the regular season are going at it.” There are matchup problems all around. The Spurs have to contend with O’Neal at the top of his game, and must defend Kobe Bryant without Derek Anderson, sidelined with a separated shoulder in Game 1 of the second-round series against Dallas. Jackson and O’Neal were harping about the Spurs’ alleged zone defense again after their practice Thursday in El Segundo. “They do play a zone defense,” O’Neal said. “It’s no secret. Horace (Grant) is going to have to hit some shots to open up the middle.” Added Jackson: “We have to get San Antonio out of their zone. If they can sit back in their zone and play Duncan and Robinson on Shaq, that’s two seven-footers (2.14 meters) to beat.” The Lakers, meanwhile, have to defend San Antonio’s Twin Towers. “It’s two talented 7-footers against one,” O’Neal said. Jackson doesn’t like to double-team anybody, even though Duncan will have a big advantage one-on-one against either Grant or Robert Horry. “They’re going to need to double him,” Sean Elliott said. “If you try to guard him, I think you’ll see what can happen real quick. Everybody’s been talking about how we’re going to match up with Shaq and Kobe. Well, we have the best record in the league.” If Duncan is doubled, he can go to Robinson or to the perimeter, where the Spurs have shot 42 percent (59-for-139) from 3-point range in the playoffs. “I’ve got shooters all over the court,” Duncan said. The outcome could come down to the supporting cast. Derek Fisher has averaged 13.7 points in the playoffs for Los Angeles. Grant, Horry and Rick Fox can do some damage, too. Antonio Daniels, Anderson’s replacement, has scored 11.1 points per game and shot 54 percent from the field in the postseason. He and Elliott will be the primary defender of Bryant, who averaged 37.7 points against San Antonio in the regular season. Among the other Spurs, Terry Porter can still bury the 3-pointer, and Avery Johnson is a threat on drives to the hoop. Bryant and O’Neal are coexisting to the tune of 30 points per game apiece in the playoffs. Any squabbling those two did during the season, seems a dead issue for now. “I feel like we’re tested. We’re more together than we’ve been,” Fisher said. “I say we’ve been tested, not just in the playoffs, to survive the turmoil we’ve been through this season.” That’s what makes the Lakers so fearsome now. “What scares me most is that they’re playing like a team right now,” Elliott said. “They have a ton of talent, and whenever they play like a team, they’re going to be tough to beat. It’s when you catch them and they’re not playing well and guys are fighting, that’s when you really want to face them.”