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
"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."