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3 San Antonio Spurs There's not a lot more that a franchise can ask of reigning MVP Tim Duncan--although his coach still sees room for improvement in one crucial area

The Spurs will make a run at 60 wins, Tim Duncan is the odds-on
choice to retain his MVP award, and guard Emanuel Ginobili is a
favorite for Rookie of the Year. And none of that will matter if
San Antonio can't find a way to beat Shaq and Kobe, who have
gone 8-1 against the Spurs over the last two postseasons.

"I had a chance to step away for a year and look at the team
from a different perspective," says 37-year-old backup guard
Steve Kerr, who is back in San Antonio after spending last
season with the Blazers. "What I see clearly is that we need to
get other guys involved more around Tim. We have to take a cue
from the Lakers, who didn't start winning until they got
everybody involved around Shaq."

With three newcomers--Steve Smith, Bruce Bowen and rookie Tony
Parker--in his starting lineup last year, coach Gregg Popovich
says he wasn't surprised that the Spurs repeatedly wilted down
the stretch against the Lakers. "Making shots is huge in the
fourth quarter, and that means getting the open shots that
you're used to making," he says. "You know the Lakers are going
to execute, but you can't exacerbate things by breaking down."

While it appears that Duncan's game requires little fine-tuning,
Popovich would like to see his go-to guy--who last season became
the fifth player in league history to rank in the top five in
scoring, rebounding and blocks--be more assertive at crunch
time. "He can be more hungry as a scorer in certain possessions,
and he can also demand more from his teammates," says Popovich.
"I see him being more aggressive in everything he does."

More crucial to San Antonio's success will be how well Parker
and Ginobili mesh with Duncan. Parker is only 20, but he plays
with the swagger of a 10-year All-Star. Ginobili is one of this
season's most anticipated rookies, a 25-year-old slasher who led
Argentina to its upset of the U.S. at the world championships
this summer. Eventually, he and Parker will form one of the
league's quickest backcourts. "Even though I am a scorer, I've
always been a player who understands very well what the team
needs," says Ginobili.

Ginobili won't be as prolific as Kobe, but his daring
athleticism could, in time, provide San Antonio with a similarly
lethal weapon. "At the end of the game Shaq isn't the problem,
because you know where he's going to be and you can double him,"
says Popovich. "Kobe's the problem because he's hard to get a
handle on."

If only Ginobili can create similar headaches. --I.T.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH STRETCH RUN Duncan & Co. have snatched only one win in their last nine playoff games against the Lakers.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL BAPTIST/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES G FORCE After starring for Argentina at the world championships, Ginobili is set to do a turn as the Spurs' answer to Kobe.

In his 835 NBA games guard Steve Kerr has yet to foul out. Only
Wilt Chamberlain went more games without being disqualified

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Spurs

"The Spurs shot about 45 percent in the fourth quarter during
the regular season, but it was close to 33 percent in their
second-round playoff series against the Lakers. They didn't have
guys who could make shots in the clutch, which is why I like the
acquisitions of Emanuel Ginobili and Steve Kerr, and the fact
that Tony Parker is a year older. I'm betting that Ginobili can
do for San Antonio what he did against some of the best NBA
players in the world championships--create his own opportunities
with the clock running down and drive the lane either to score
or set up a teammate. He's going to have to work hard to move
ahead of Steve Smith in the starting lineup, but it would be in
Smith's best interests to play fewer minutes. His knees are
shot, and if he's fresh heading into the playoffs, he'll be a
much bigger help than he was last year.... What more can they
ask of Tim Duncan? Against the Lakers he put up 29 points, 17
rebounds, 4 1/2 assists and three blocks per game. Also last year
he improved his foul shooting from 62 percent to 80 percent,
which is more proof of his greatness.... David Robinson is a
high-percentage shooter who could take more shots than his 8.6
attempts per game last season; that would take some pressure off
Duncan.... We'll have to see how much help they'll get from
40-year-old Kevin Willis; at the very least he and Mengke Bateer
give San Antonio extra bulk and fouls off the bench to stand up
to Shaq.... I love Malik Rose's heart and effort. He fights for
rebounds and loose balls, but he also turns the ball over a lot
and has trouble scoring over the bigger guys.... Speedy Claxton
is a tremendous penetrator and does a great job of pressuring
the ball, but he hit only four of 33 threes last year. In the
playoffs he won't be able to penetrate as easily, so to be
effective he's going to have to prove that he can hit the
outside shot."


Tough D

Fair D

No D

2001-02 record: 58-24 (first in Midwest)
Points scored: 96.7 (10th) Points allowed: 90.5 (3rd)
Coach: Gregg Popovich (seventh season with Spurs)


SF Bruce Bowen 162 7.0 ppg 2.7 rpg 1.5 apg 1.05 spg 38.9 FG%
PF Tim Duncan 1 25.5 ppg 12.7 rpg 3.7 apg 2.48 bpg 50.8 FG%
C David Robinson 57 12.2 ppg 8.3 rpg 1.79 bpg 1.10 spg 50.7 FG%
SG Steve Smith 112 11.6 ppg 2.5 rpg 2.0 apg 45.5 FG% 47.2 3FG%
PG Tony Parker 99 9.2 ppg 2.6 rpg 4.3 apg 1.16 spg 41.9 FG%


G Emanuel
Ginobili(R)[1] 136 19.9 ppg 4.4 rpg 2.2 apg 53.0 FG% 39.8 3FG%
F Malik Rose 195 9.4 ppg 6.0 rpg 0.7 apg 0.85 spg 46.3 FG%
G Speedy Claxton[1] 219 7.2 ppg 2.4 rpg 3.0 apg 1.42 spg 40.0 FG%
F Danny Ferry 229 4.6 ppg 1.8 rpg 1.0 apg 42.9 FG% 43.4 3FG%
C-F Kevin Willis[1] 290 6.1 ppg 5.8 rpg 0.44 bpg 0.48 spg 44.0 FG%

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics from Italian League)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)