On Tap Tonight
Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
What to Watch
Three of the top reasons why the Western Conference is considered superior to the East will be on display tonight at the SBC Center in San Antonio as the Lakers and Spurs play game 5 of their conference semifinal series.
The game features three of the five All NBA team members: Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. The others are Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett and the New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd -- the lone player from the East.
Of the past five championships, the Lakers have claimed three (2000, 2001, 2002) while the Spurs have won two (2003 and 1999). The NBA finals are supposed to be the contest of the league's two best teams. But none of the contenders the East has sent to the finals in the past five years has given either the Spurs or Lakers much trouble, losing in six games or less.
In their last meeting, the Lakers tied the series by defeating the Spurs 98-90. Down 2-0, the Lakers stormed back to win two straight and will try to break the Spurs home-court advantage tonight.
Los Angeles has yet to live up to its preseason billing in the playoffs. They boast four future hall-of-fame players but so far in the playoffs Karl Malone and Gary Payton have played only secondary roles. As in the past, the team's fortunes ebb and flow on the play of O'Neal and Bryant.
Entering the playoffs, there was speculation that the bad blood between the two would hurt the team's chances of getting back to the finals. But there are signs that the postseason has prompted Bryant and O'Neal to close ranks. Bryant has confided to friends that he is considering the possibility of staying with the club rather than test the free agent market when his contract runs out at the end of the season, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Laker camaraderie is the least of the Spurs' problems. San Antonio must find a way to thwart the Lakers' third-period spurts. For the series, the Lakers have outscored the Spurs in the third quarters, 119-75.
To force the Lakers to ease their coverage of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, players such as Hedo Turkoglu and Rasho Nesterovic must hit open shots. Turkoglu showed signs that he might be breaking out of his slump in game 4 when he hit 4 of his 8 three-point shots and scored 16 points. Nesterovic was productive during his 33 minutes, recording 12 points and 7 rebounds.
Last Night's Big Winner (Team)
Miami Heat. The 42-40 team continues to stump the Pacers, who amassed the league's best regular-season record (61-21). The underdog Heat tied the series at 2-2 when six players scored in double figures in the club's 100-88 victory. The Heat have out-hustled Indiana, and the Pacers' frustration was underscored by two flagrant fouls late in the game.
Last Night's Big Loser (Team)
Indiana Pacers. Beyond the combined 65 points that the Pacers received from Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest, the team's other three starters, Reggie Miller, Jamaal Tinsley and Jeff Foster, muster a total of 7 points between them.
Last Night's Big Winner (Player).
Chris Webber. Booed by his own fans earlier this season, Webber scored 28 points and made key baskets down the stretch in an 87-81 victory over Minnesota Timberwolves.
Last Night's Big Loser (Player)
Jamaal Tinsley. The Pacers' guard, nursing a sore left ankle, posts 4 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists but is ejected for committing a flagrant foul on the Heat's Eddie Jones in the fourth period.