It was just one of those things

Times Staff Writer

The San Antonio Spurs rode quietly into the sunset while the Lakers awaited the chance to avenge championship-round losses to either Detroit (1989, 2004) or Boston (too many to list).

Not so fast.

The Lakers eventually could advance to the NBA Finals, though they're expecting the Spurs to approach tonight's Game 2 like, you know, defending champions.

The Lakers showed up for Thursday's practice with equal parts enthusiasm and realism, knowing they somehow fell 20 points behind the Spurs in Game 1 but also happy to have scored an 89-85 body blow Wednesday in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

Still, there are reasons the Spurs have won four of the last nine NBA championships.

"They're going to keep coming," Kobe Bryant said. "They're hungry to get a back-to-back [title]. I don't see Game 1 lingering into Game 2. I think they'll be ready to go."

Or, as Lamar Odom said, "They're champions, man. You're going to expect a challenge from them at all times."

The challenge probably will be there from the start, seeing how the Spurs couldn't have played much worse in the fourth quarter.

They made only three of 21 shots in the quarter, an unsightly 14.3% shooting accuracy. Furthermore, they were one of nine from three-point range in the quarter and also committed five turnovers.

Bryant was careful to note that the Lakers' defense wasn't the main culprit.

"I don't think any defense is that good," he said. "I think it has to be a combination of them not shooting the ball well, not making shots that they normally make and us applying pressure."

The Lakers, meanwhile, viewed Coach Phil Jackson's latest theme in the film room before practicing Thursday afternoon.

Jackson is now interspersing clips of the movie "The Kingdom" into video sessions, a marked departure from the lighter fare he spliced into the first two rounds -- "Best in Show" and "Speed Racer."

In the newest movie, a small team of U.S. government agents helps solve a terrorist attack on a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia. Jackson's presumed message is that of a small, elite group working together to overcome outside odds.

Whether the significance hits home with the Lakers, the Spurs will be waiting tonight.

"I don't expect them to be off of their psyche or crushed or all of a sudden feeling as though they aren't the better team," Derek Fisher said. "I suspect they'll come back and probably play even better [tonight] so we'll have to be better in order to win."


Bryant's first half in Game 1 was still a torrid topic a day later.

He made only one of three shots and had two points as the Lakers fell behind by eight at halftime. He had only four points at the midpoint of the third quarter but zoomed away from there, finishing with 27 points.

Bryant laughed off the interest in his late-game upward trajectory.

"I think everybody's making a little too much of a big deal out of it," he said. "What I did is infuse some more energy into our ballclub. . . . I think we all kind of followed that."

Fisher has seen it before in nine seasons of playing alongside Bryant in the Lakers' backcourt.

"I wasn't really that worried about him at halftime [Wednesday] because I knew he was assessing the situation," Fisher said. "He has that ability. I don't know if there's anybody else that can do what he does.

"He can take an entire half and read defenses, read how he's being played, read how the rest of us are being played and basically catalog that information and then come out the second half and do the complete opposite, but be successful in doing it."


Lakers assistant coaches Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw have met with Chicago Bulls General Manager John Paxson regarding the Bulls' head coaching vacancy, a job that became more attractive when the Bulls won the NBA draft lottery this week.

The Bulls were 33-49 last season and fired interim coach Jim Boylan last month. Boylan had replaced Scott Skiles in December. Their wide-open, slow-moving coaching search includes about a dozen candidates at this point.

Rambis, 50, coached the Lakers during training camp last season while Jackson recovered from hip surgery. Rambis also has experience as a head coach in 1999, going 25-13 after taking over for Del Harris as the Lakers' interim coach.

Shaw has also met with Phoenix, which is also interested in Rambis.

Shaw, 42, has been a Lakers assistant since the 2004-05 season and played for the franchise during its championship runs in 2000-02.

Both coaches interviewed for vacancies last season -- Rambis with Sacramento and Seattle, Shaw with Sacramento and Indiana.


The NBA issued a warning to Lakers fans -- watch what you buy, even if a cheap price on that purple-and-gold sleeping bag is impossible to pass up.

"As the Lakers continue to win and advance through the playoffs, their merchandise becomes more popular among basketball fans and counterfeiters alike," Ayala Deutsch, the league's senior vice president and chief intellectual property counsel, said in a statement released by the league.

"The 2008 NBA playoffs is an event that Los Angeles fans will want to remember for many years to come, but a counterfeit T-shirt is not really keepsake if it contains a typo or shrinks three sizes when you put it in the laundry."

Deutsch recommended that Lakers fans look for hologram stickers, tags and sewn-in labels that identify the merchandise as "genuine" or "official" as authorized by the NBA. Deutsch said fans reduce the risk of counterfeit goods by shopping at Lakers' official team stores and instead of "buying items from street vendors and flea markets."

Deutsch also said that ripped tags, typographical errors and poor quality screen-printing were tipoffs to phony merchandise.

"If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is," added Deutsch.


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