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Western Conference Finals Preview

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

[1]Los Angeles Lakers[3]San Antonio Spurs
57-25, first in Pacific Division56-26, second in Southwest Division

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WHY THE LAKERS CAN WIN: Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are back in the conference finals for the first time in four years, eager to win another title, the first without Shaquille O'Neal for Bryant and Fisher. Jackson, who has won an NBA-record 46 playoff series, is 3-1 in head-to-head playoff series matchups against Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. The Lakers have been resting for the past five days, giving Bryant's back time to heal, while the Spurs are coming off a seven-game series against New Orleans. Lakers forward Lamar Odom has raised his scoring and rebounding averages in the playoffs.

WHY THE SPURS CAN WIN: San Antonio is the defending champion and never can be counted out. While the Lakers earned the top seed in the West and have played only 10 playoff games, they still are a relatively new playoff group. The Spurs have much more experience together, with the nucleus of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen in its sixth season. The Lakers are 8-2 in the playoffs, but have yet to face a defensive team that comes close to rivaling the Spurs. San Antonio has won four championships in the past nine seasons, but it is hungry to win back-to-back titles for the first time and cement its status as a dynasty.

DIFFERENCE MAKER: Parker, Spurs. Duncan took a back seat to Ginóbili in the regular season, but Parker has emerged as the Spurs go-to man in the postseason. He is averaging 23.7 points in 12 playoff games. He averaged a team-high 20.7 points and shot 56.5 percent in three games against the Lakers this season, with San Antonio winning two of them.

BOTTOM LINE: Lakers in seven.


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