Spurs hoping to close out Kings in Game 6
The San Antonio Spurs have been pushed, stretched and exhausted over the past two weeks, but they've finally got the Kings on the brink of elimination from the first round of the playoffs in Game 6 at Arco Arena on Friday night.
The second round can't arrive quickly enough for the defending champions, what with Parker's bruises, Ginobili's aching jaw and Tim Duncan's frustrations with an undermanned opponent using every plan it can concoct to hinder and harass the Spurs' stars.
But San Antonio will need one more win to get there -- and even though the Spurs closed out six series on the road in the last three postseasons, Sacramento is a tough spot to finish.
"We need to finish this series, definitely," said Parker, who sat out practice Thursday to rest his bruised right thigh. "If we're going to be a great team, we need to win games on the road. This is a perfect opportunity."
San Antonio also knows the Dallas Mavericks are sitting and waiting for the Spurs after sweeping their own first-round series. The degree of difficulty in the Spurs' title defense rises with every lingering day of this series, but the Spurs could eliminate two more days of hard work from their schedule by finally winning in Sacramento.
"It doesn't matter that Dallas has won or not," said Ginobili, who emerged from two terrible games against Ron Artest's defense to score 27 points in Game 5. "We just have to move on to the next round. Of course, nobody wants to go seven games. We're going to try to close it down. It's going to be hard."
And the Kings aren't ready to be finished for the summer, either. With a strong effort that matches their late-season surge, the Kings remain convinced they can force Game 7 on Sunday.
Sacramento won its first two home games in the series, though the Kings needed Kevin Martin's buzzer-beating layup over Duncan to steal Game 3. They've been outstanding at home ever since Artest arrived in late January, sometimes even drawing too much energy from their loud crowd.
And the Kings have a history of success in elimination games at home: They won similar Game 6 matchups in 2003 against Dallas and in 2004 against Minnesota. They haven't been eliminated from the playoffs at home since arguably the most disappointing loss in franchise history -- Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"You never want to go out at home, so we're going to do everything we can to take it back to San Antonio," said Bonzi Wells, who scored 38 points in Game 5. "It's going to be a tall order, but we've definitely proved that we can cause problems for these guys, and we can beat them."
The Spurs' biggest contributors all have had problems in the series, from Ginobili's disappearing act to Duncan's slow start. Only Parker has been a consistent offensive contributor -- and he's hobbling with a bruise from a collision with Mike Bibby in the first quarter of Game 5. Kings coach Rick Adelman doesn't expect the Spurs' leading scorer to be slowed, however.
"I'll bet he's fast. I'll bet he's quick," Adelman said. "They probably just held him out as a precaution."
Duncan has been outstanding in the last three games, averaging 23.3 points and 9.7 rebounds. Nobody in the league has any idea how to stop the three-time NBA Finals MVP consistently, but Adelman and the Kings' big men will try a new approach in Game 6.
Just don't ask what it is. Adelman and Shareef Abdur-Rahim declined comment, while Artest seemed warm to the suggestion he might apply more double-teams in the post.
No matter the Kings' approach, Game 6 should be another physical match. Though Artest's one-game suspension for his elbow to Ginobili's head still is considered a league overreaction by both clubs, Sacramento's aggressive defense has forced the Spurs to respond with their own vaunted postseason toughness.
Everybody is bruised, Wells surmised -- but the Spurs are on the brink of a very short break.
"It's a grind out there, every game," Duncan said. "They're a very physical team with their new players now. We'll come out of it a little more bruised, but hopefully we'll come out tough and ready for the next round."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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