Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Lakers find themselves with their backs to the wall

LA ACCIDENTAL Just when they thought things had started to click, Shaq and Co fall 2-0 behind to the Spurs, but the LA Lakers are at their best when the chips are down

AP , EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA

Kobe Bryant loves a challenge -- always has, always will.

Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers have overcome every obstacle in their way since Phil Jackson was hired to coach them in 1999.

The three-time defending NBA champions have never had a challenge like this.

Not only do they trail the San Antonio Spurs 2-0 in their second-round playoff series, the Lakers are missing two key players -- forwards Rick Fox and Devean George.

"It makes it pretty tough," Bryant acknowledged with a thin smile on Thursday.

Their absence was glaring in every way in San Antonio's 114-95 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday.

And it's decimated a bench that was already thin.

"Yeah, it is [tough]," said 37-year-old Brian Shaw, who started Wednesday night for the first time since April 8, 2001. "If it wasn't tough, it wouldn't be as satisfying if we get over the hump."

Fox tore a tendon in his left foot in the Lakers' first-round series against Minnesota and will undergo surgery next week.

That made a starter out of George, but he sprained his left ankle in San Antonio's series-opening 87-82 victory on Monday night.

An MRI on Thursday confirmed George had what team spokesman John Black called a severe sprain and nothing more. Jackson said it's a virtual certainty George wouldn't play yesterday night [this morning in Taiwan] in Game 3 at Staples Center.

The Spurs called off practice Thursday, opting to rest before flying to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.

"We're looking all right now. I like our position," Spurs star Tim Duncan said. "They are the world champions. I don't think they respect us. I don't think they're worried at all. That's nothing, to be up 2-0. We need to show that we can win on the road now."

The Spurs won 18 of their last 20 road games in the regular season to finish 27-14.

Seven NBA teams have rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, with the Houston Rockets being the most recent to accomplish the feat, doing so in the 1995 Western Conference finals against Phoenix.

"We view this as an opportunity," Bryant said. "They did what they had to do [winning twice at home]. The pressure's on us to do what we have to do. It's on us to do the same."

That means a win yesterday night and tomorrow afternoon to even the series.

But first things first.

"Going down 3-0 in terms of percentages is not favorable for us," Derek Fisher said when asked if the Lakers were in a desperate situation.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.

"It's new territory for us, it's what it is," Fisher said. "We'll just go from there. We have to do what's necessary. We feel like there's so much room for improvement."

There's no question about that considering the Spurs dominated the Lakers in every way possible on Wednesday night.

"Champions have a way of coming up with their best effort when it seems like they can't," Fisher said.

Fisher took only four shots in Game 2. Robert Horry, a playoff hero in the past, continued his horrendous slump, shooting 1-of-5.

"It's somewhat bewildering to us. We have such confidence in him," Jackson said of Horry, who is 21-of-63, including 2-of-25 from 3-point range in the playoffs.

"It's not like I'm getting the opportunities and passing them up," Fisher said. "From the success I had a couple years ago and other games I've had against that team, Coach [Gregg] Popovich has respect for me individually."

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