SAN ANTONIO -- The biggest lottery winners in NBA history were not going to lose on the very day that has been so good to them.
Decade later, still a prize pick
Not when the Spurs had their 3-ball working, too.
Definitely not when the Utah Jazz can't even win the rebound game.
Tuesday night's prize wasn't the right to draft another David Robinson or Tim Duncan, but the occasion did carry ample reward for the Spurs. They're just two wins away now from what looks like certain advancement to the NBA Finals, after San Antonio's 105-96 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals played out in a virtual rerun of Game 1.
Step 1 in both games: The Spurs send the Jazz trudging back to the locker room at halftime with a second-quarter blitz.
Step 2: The Spurs mimic the yawning basketball public and get bored with themselves, losing some focus in the fourth quarter and seeing their healthy lead sliced to single digits.
Step 3: The Spurs never really stray into serious crunch-time trouble and end up winning more comfortably than the final score suggests.
"We've got to fix that problem," Jazz forward Carlos Boozer said of the frustrating pattern, "if we are going to have a chance."
Boozer's problem, actually, is that Utah is suddenly looking at a slew of problems. He had a breakout game offensively (33 points, 15 boards) and Deron Williams was a handful again with 26 points and 10 assists, but the Jazz need the miracle of four wins in the next five games because the Spurs had so much more.
The Spurs beat Utah on the boards, 44-35, which pretty much nobody does. They shamed Utah's reserves with a 28-8 advantage in bench points and led by as many as 22 points in the second half after stretching their advantage in second-quarter scoring for the series to a whopping plus-30: 63-33. They also diffused the impact of an uncharacteristic 24 turnovers by draining 13 of 26 attempts from behind the line, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili seemingly penetrating at will to create open looks galore from the corners.
For the sake of a nation that can't stop longing for that Spurs-Suns series in the last round -- or those lamenting the Dallas Mavericks' inability to get where they were supposed to be and give us the thrilling West climax America was banking on -- you want to believe that offense won't come this easily to the Spurs when the series shifts Saturday to raucous Salt Lake City. Yet that assumption ignores what we've seen repeatedly in these first two games.
Fact: No matter how rugged or physical Utah is reputed to be, this team can't guard the Spurs. It's not just at the 3-point line; San Antonio continues to get plenty of gimmes at the rim as well, as highlighted by Fabricio Oberto's 6-for-7 shooting in a second straight 14-point showing.
"We proved we can score against this team," Boozer said. "We haven't proved we can stop them yet."
Not all of the pertinent history, thankfully, works in San Antonio's favor. The Spurs have actually never won a playoff game in Utah, going 0-for-8. They've also never beaten Utah in a playoff series, going 0-for-3.
Yet only one of those three playoff exits to the Jazz came after the 1997 lottery, when Boston had a nearly 40 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, only for the Ping Pong bounces to go the Spurs' way, delivering Duncan next to Robinson and decimating Celtics Nation.
Did someone say karma? The Celtics might have absorbed an even bigger blow on this night, when it was hoping for a top-two draft slot and a shot at drafting either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant . . . only to slide down to No. 5 instead.
The Spurs, meanwhile, were submitting the sort of Game 1 replay to remind everyone why Charles Barkley often refers to Duncan as "Groundhog Day."
We've seen this before, indeed: Duncan posted his customary 26 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to virtually guarantee that San Antonio will soon be playing for its fourth championship in nine seasons.
"His place in history is sure to find him as one of the best power forwards to ever play the game," Spurs forward Robert Horry said of Duncan. "But don't tell him I said that."
Nor can we print what they must be muttering in Boston.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Sonics assistant GM Rich Cho and Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard hold up their lucky charms prior to the 2007 NBA draft lottery. (They worked.)
For the Sonics, the arrival of Kevin Durant most likely means the departure of Rashard Lewis, who can opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. There was already talk that the Sonics couldn't afford to keep him and he wanted out anyway.
The trick will be convincing Lewis that a sign-and-trade is the best way to leave town (allowing the Sonics to get something in return). It could work because only one team, Charlotte, is really in a position to give Lewis great money without some sort of sign-and-trade.
As much as Durant will be a marketable star in Seattle, he doesn't solve all of the Sonics' problems. They still need a center, it appears, and they have a power forward rotation that doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. Besides Lewis, Ray Allen is really the only keeper on the team.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the next Sonics general manager blow this whole team up and start rebuilding around Durant, from the bottom up.
The lip service USA Basketball has paid to selecting more than a glorified All-Star team to represent the country has finally taken a turn with the addition of Pistons small forward Tayshaun Prince. He, of course, never has been an All-Star. He's simply a winner, which is why it's no accident that Detroit has won at least 50 games all five seasons he's been with them.
The national program is expected to officially announce Prince's addition this week, but his agent, Bill Duffy, confirmed Tuesday that Prince has received and accepted an invitation.
"He's well deserving of this," Duffy said. "He may be both the most underrated and versatile player in the league."
You'd expect a guy's agent to say that, but Duffy happens to be right. Which is exactly the kind of savvy player essential to success in international competition, where mental tenacity trumps vertical hops and chemistry is more important than individual excellence. Not that Prince, at 6-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, can't play above the rim or break off electric moves -- they're just way down his priority list.
USA jerseys with Prince's name on the back may or may not fly out of the souvenir stands, but he has all the ingredients to restore some value to the name on the front. His excellence for the Pistons has hinged on his ability to make whatever adjustments necessary to fit his game around that of his teammates.
That's why Detroit's four other starters were All-Stars and you've never heard a peep from Prince about respect or touches. Sure, his 14 points and five rebounds a game this season looks rather modest. But need someone to smother LeBron? Check. Need someone to light up Luol Deng? Check. Bury a three, score on the block, reject a sure layup, grab a rally-killing rebound? Check, check, check, check. The NBA brain trust has raised more than a few questionable decisions this season. Prince playing for Team USA is not one of them.
-- Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Spurs forward Tim Duncan (26 points) takes a shot over Utah's Andrei Kirilenko during the Spurs' Game 2 win.
Quote of the Day:
Quote of the Day, Part 2:
-- Andrew Ayres
Christ (Houston): What are your thoughts on the Rick Adelman hire? I understand being frustrated and that offense sells tickets, but has Les Alexander been paying no attention to these playoffs? The Mavs, Warriors and Suns are all playing golf while the "boring" teams (Spurs and Jazz) are playing for the Western Conference title.
Marc Stein: Rick is a winner. Throw out his Golden State stop and he's never missed the playoffs. He will be a success in Houston. But I hear your concerns. The Rockets aren't going to be a running team with their nonathletes. Rick will obviously have to adjust to the personnel. But he's considered one of the more creative offensive minds in the league. Good hire.
Hank (Sacramento): Do you think the Maloofs are finished making basketball decisions and will let Petrie get back to choosing who should coach, who to draft, who to trade, etc.?
Marc Stein: Totally finished? Owners are never finished making decisions. But in general? Yup. It's Petrie's show again.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pretty much knew Sunday night, when he told his whole team that it could stay away from the team's practice facility Monday, that his owner would be getting a bill from the league.
But Pop simply didn't care, determined to create as much between-games rest for his players as he could after a short turnaround from the Phoenix series ... and with memories of last year's second-round showdown with Dallas still fresh.
In that one, San Antonio flew back from Sacramento after closing out the Kings on the road on a Friday night and won a Game 1 squeaker at home Sunday afternoon. The Spurs, though, were routed by the Mavericks in Game 2 and wound up losing in seven games, believing to the end that they started that series at a disadvantage because of the scheduling.
The rest of their teammates followed orders to stay away and returned to work Tuesday looking rather spry, helping San Antonio surge to a 22-point lead that held up in a 105-96 triumph.
Brent Barry, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen each dropped three 3-pointers, many of them set up by Parker as part of the Frenchman's 14 assists, a career playoff high. Barry made all three of his 3s in the second quarter and Bowen added his three in the fourth to turn back Utah's last rally and give the Spurs a club record for a playoff game with 13 triples as a team.
You have to wonder how much Parker's shoulder and knees are really bothering him when he puts up 17 points with those 14 dimes.
You have to be even more concerned -- if you're Utah -- about how fresh San Antonio will be in Saturday's Game 3 after three days of rest, judging by how good the Spurs looked for all but half of the fourth quarter of Game 2.
"Well, uh ... yes I do," Pop said when asked if the $50,000 day off he bought his team was a wise investment.
Using our draft machine lets you be the GM. See how your first-round calls stack up against fellow ESPN.com users.