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Lakers Express Rolls On

LOS ANGELES, May 25 (AP) -- The clash of titans in the West is a fraud. Merciless mismatch is more like it.

With a 111-72 rout of the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers erased any doubt that they could become the first NBA team to sweep its way through the playoffs.

O'Neal had his way with Spurs defenders Friday.
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE Photos TV highlights: 28.8+ | ISDN+
Led by the superstar duo that has gone from a family feud to an incomparable on-court partnership, the defending champions have won 18 in a row, 10 this postseason.

"We're in a flow," Kobe Bryant said. "It's togetherness, playing as a team. We support one another on the court no matter what's going on."

Shaquille O'Neal had 35 points and 17 rebounds, while Bryant had 36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, as the Lakers embarrassed a Spurs team that compiled the best record in the NBA regular season, only to be dominated by Los Angeles.

"My guys played beautiful, once again," O'Neal said.

The Lakers lead the Western Conference finals 3-0 and can complete a sweep with a homecourt victory on Sunday.

The only remaining drama is whether anyone can beat Los Angeles, even once.

Los Angeles' 10-0 run is the best start in the playoffs since the 1989 Lakers went 11-0, only to lose Magic Johnson and Byron Scott to injuries and be swept by Detroit in the finals.

It might take that kind of calamity to slow these Lakers.

No team has come back from being down 3-0 to win a series, and the others who tried were playing mere mortals, not a Los Angeles team that is improving each time it takes the court.
Shaquille O'Neal gets position in the paint and hammers it down with two hands:
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"Last year, we weren't as ruthless with opponents as we are this year," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "This is the way we thought this team could be."

David Robinson tried to keep San Antonio close with a 24-point performance, but Tim Duncan, after scoring a career playoff-high 40 in Game 2, was just 3-for-14 from the field and scored nine points. Antonio Daniels scored 17 points for the Spurs, who suffered their worst loss of the season.

"They're playing very, very well," Robinson said of the Lakers. "It was a total dismantling of our team. Wow. It was a bad one. ... That never happens. It's not supposed to happen in a game like this."

Derek Fisher scored 13 points and Fox had 11 for Los Angeles.

The Lakers ended any doubt with a devastating 37-12 blitz over the final 8 1/2 minutes of the third quarter and first 6 1/2 minutes of the fourth.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he thinks his team may have stopped believing it can beat the Lakers.

"It made me wonder if we believe as a group if we have enough juice," Popovich said.

Daniels' two free throws made it 61-54 with 8:39 left in the third. Before the Spurs knew what hit them, it was 98-66.

"They looked tired," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "They looked fatigued from the game, from the energy of the game, and we were able to ride that spurt from the third quarter."

Bryant scored from all angles. O'Neal bulled his way to baskets inside. Bryant opened the final quarter with a two-handed reverse stuff on a drive to the basket.

It was showtime again, only better.

Despite shooting just 29 percent in the second quarter and without O'Neal for the final 3:08 of the half, the Lakers still led 54-44 at the break.

Tim Duncan hits the fallaway in the paint:
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With its offense sputtering, Los Angeles relied on a tough defense that, combined with more poor outside shooting from the Spurs, held San Antonio to 37 percent shooting in the first half (16-for-43).

Derek Anderson, who had been out for 20 days after dislocating his right shoulder in Game 1 of the second-round series with Dallas, was back in the San Antonio starting lineup, replacing Danny Ferry. But Anderson wasn't even close on seven shots in 22 ineffective minutes.

O'Neal, who shot just 8-for-21 in Game 2 and was criticized by coach Phil Jackson for a lack of energy, made his first five shots and was 7-for-8 and scored 15 in the first quarter as the Lakers took a 34-21 lead.

Los Angeles had one of its worst offensive quarters of the playoffs in the second, making just seven of 24 shots (29 percent). Still, the Spurs, whose shooting woes continued with 37 percent marksmanship in the first half, couldn't pull even.

O'Neal went to the bench with his third foul with 3:08 to play in the first half. Daniels made two free throws with 2:59 remaining to cut the lead to 49-44. But the Shaq-less Lakers scored the final five points of the half, three by Bryant on a stuff and one of two free throws, to lead 54-44.

Notes: Fisher was 9-for-10 on 3-pointers in the series before he missed two in a row. ... The Spurs were 1-for-12 on 3-pointers, leaving them 10-for-43 in the series. They had shot 42 percent in the playoffs going into the series, and 41 percent in the regular season. ... Anderson's first shot was blocked by Robert Horry and led to a layup by Bryant. ... The Lakers' closest game in the playoffs is a three-point victory over Sacramento in the first game of the second round (108-105). ... The 1983 Philadelphia 76ers had the NBA's best playoff record at 12-1.

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