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The Associated Press

   PHILADELPHIA Shaquille O'Neal was expressionless at the moment he won his second championship, sauntering down the court as if not much had happened.

   No whooping it up, no smile, not even a happy little trot.

   It was as if he simply expected it. Everyone else did, too.

   No team ever had a postseason quite like these Los Angeles Lakers, who won their second straight championship with relative ease Friday night to complete the best playoff run in NBA history.

   Los Angeles defeated Philadelphia 108-96 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, leaving the court to boos and taunts from 76ers fans.

   With O'Neal leading the way, the Lakers finished the playoffs with a record of 15-1, the best ever, and became the first team to go through the playoffs undefeated on the road.

   "This time is fun," said O'Neal, the series MVP. "The first championship was just to get the monkey off my back. The rest are to stamp myself in history."

   The Lakers won 23 of their final 24 games and were so good that their last pass of the game an alley-oop from Rick Fox to O'Neal dropped unexpectedly through the basket for a 3-pointer.

   "We capped it off in the exact way we hoped we would," Fox said. "We never gave up on our chances of putting together a stretch like we did at the end. This is a remarkable return to the glory we expected to have."

   The final 3-pointer was one of 12 the Lakers made in a clincher that could have turned into a blowout if not for the determination of the 76ers.

   The Sixers made one of their patented fourth-quarter comebacks, cutting a 19-point deficit to seven with 1:13 left. But Derek Fisher as so many Lakers role players had done throughout the series hit a 3-pointer to end the 76ers' hopes.

   Allen Iverson left the game for good with 40.3 seconds left, getting a standing ovation and chants of "M-V-P" from the fans who had hoped for the Sixers' first title in almost two decades.

   The fans defiantly chanted "Let's Go Sixers" as the Lakers left the court to safely receive their championship trophy somewhere other than at center court.

   Bryant jumped around exuberantly after the final buzzer, cradling the game ball while extending his other arm high in the air. O'Neal ended up in the arms of Lakers rookie Mark Madsen, while Bryant and Fox found Sixers coach Larry Brown and hugged him.

   All four of those Lakers had outstanding

games. O'Neal finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, Bryant scored 26, Fox had 20 and Fisher 18.

   Fisher shot 6-for-8 from 3-point range and again played such tight defense on Iverson that it left the Sixers' best player clearly frustrated.

   Iverson, who picked up three personal fouls and a technical foul in the first quarter, finished with 37 points on 14-for-32 shooting.

   He left the First Union Center without commenting after Bryant jumped ahead of him in the interview room.

   "They were phenomenal," Brown said of the Lakers. "They were well-coached, they played like a class team all series and certainly deserved to win."

   The series ended somewhat anticlimactically given the way it began. The heavy underdog Sixers surprised the Lakers and the basketball world by winning Game 1 in overtime, but Los Angeles regained the momentum by holding off the Sixers in Games 2 and 3 and then winning Game 4 decisively.

   The 76ers played another gritty, determined game. They just didn't have enough offense to keep up with a Lakers team that methodically answered every run they made.

   "We could not have won these finals without the entire team," said Fisher, one of several members of O'Neal and Bryant's supporting cast who gave Philadelphia the decisive edge.

   Coach Phil Jackson won his eighth title six of them with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls one short of the NBA record for coaches held by Red Auerbach. Jackson has won his last 20 playoff series, also a record.

   "This is surreal," he said.

   A championship hardly seemed possible just a few months ago when Bryant and O'Neal were taking potshots at each another and the team was plagued by finger-pointing, bickering and pettiness.

   The team worked out its problems by late in the season and finished with eight straight regular-season victories before winning their first 11 postseason games.

   After easily beating Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio in the first three rounds, the Lakers had their sights set on becoming the first team to go undefeated through the playoffs.

   Their Game 1 loss ended that possibility, but they won their final four to set the mark for the best postseason winning percentage.

   Sixers coach Larry Brown made a change in his starting lineup, replacing small forward Jumaine Jones with Snow. But the biggest difference in the opening few minutes was the way Iverson was able to score despite picking up two personal fouls and a technical foul in the first 2 minutes.

   Iverson hit four of his first five shots as the 76ers opened a 16-10 lead before Fox tied it with back-to-back 3-pointers. Iverson was charged with his third foul with 42 seconds left in the first quarter after colliding with Bryant while chasing a loose ball.

   Philadelphia took a 27-24 lead into the second quarter, but the Lakers quickly caught up when Iverson went scoreless for more than six minutes.

   O'Neal converted an alley-oop dunk from Fox after a turnover by Iverson, making it 46-38, and Bryant finally made his first basket after an 0-for-5 start a 3-pointer that made it 49-40.

   Iverson, playing with a bruise on his right side, scored the next six points and the Sixers cut their deficit to four by halftime. But Fisher hit a 3-pointer early in the third and Bryant made consecutive shots to give the Lakers their first 10-point lead 59-49.

   From there, the Sixers kept trying to rally all the way back, and the Lakers stopped them cold each time.

   Iverson hit a 3 and a corner jumper to make it 67-62, but Fisher blocked Iverson's next shot and O'Neal converted a three-point play.

   Rodney Buford and Iverson were called for offensive fouls on consecutive possessions late in the third. Fisher made a 3-pointer after the first and Horace Grant hit a jumper after the second to make it 80-66.

   O'Neal made the final shot of the third quarter, a chippy from the lane that bounced four times on the rim before falling through to give Los Angeles an 83-68 lead.

   Snow missed a dunk on Philadelphia's first possession of the fourth, and the 76ers committed turnovers on their next two possessions. Bryant hit Robert Horry for an alley-oop layup with 10:44 left, increasing the lead to 19.

   Rather than quit, the 76ers put together one last rally to try to make a game of it. Iverson had four points in an 10-1 run that cut the deficit to nine, 93-84 with 5:20 left.

   Fisher and Iverson traded 3-pointers, and O'Neal fouled out Matt Geiger and Mutombo on the Lakers' next two possessions.

   Snow made one of two free throws with 1:14 left to make it a seven-point game, 100-93, after O'Neal was called for two three-second violations.

   Fisher ended all doubt by making a 3-pointer from three feet behind the arc with 51 seconds left for a 103-93 lead.

Notes: The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 12-1 in the playoffs, held the previous record for best winning percentage .923. ... George Lynch, who didn't score in Game 4 as he made his return from a broken foot, badly missed a layup in the first quarter hitting the bottom of the rim. He sprained his toe in the second quarter and did not return. ... Geiger fouled out with 4:10 left and got a nice ovation from the same fans who routinely booed him throughout the season. .. There were 54 personal fouls in the game.

 


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Three's a crowd

The Associated Press

   TULSA, Okla. On a day of surprises at the U.S. Open, the biggest was Tiger Woods.

   He almost went home.

   A long and grueling Friday at Southern Hills produced a trio of unlikely leaders Mark Brooks, Retief Goosen and J.L. Lewis and more sloppy play from the guy whom everyone figured would turn this U.S. Open into another romp.

   Instead, Woods wound up with his worst opening round in the U.S. Open in three years, a 4-over 74. He spent the next 18 holes flirting with the cut line before a late run of birdies kept him around for the weekend.

   Goosen heard one roar after another coming from Woods' direction and assumed he was making an early run at his fifth straight major.

   "I thought it was him on a roll again," the 32-year-old South African said.

   The charge a great par save and back-to-back birdies got him to 4-over and spared him an early departure from a major for the first time since Woods was still in college.

   He finished nine strokes behind the leaders, his worst deficit in a major since the 2000 Masters, which happens to be the only major he didn't win out of the last six played.

   Brooks, who won the 1996 PGA Championship and was the only co-leader with any kind of pedigree, birdied five of his first six holes the kind of start expected from Woods for a 6-under 64 and an unlikely spot going into the weekend.

   Goosen finally finished the storm-delayed first round Friday morning with a 66 for the lead, then the South African held onto it with an even-par 70. Lewis, a 40-year-old former club pro, had back-to-back 68s in a major championship he described as "just a golf tournament."

   They were at 4-under 136, two strokes ahead of Sergio Garcia, who had a bogey-free round of 68 to get into contention at a major for the first time since he leapt onto the scene at the PGA Championship two years ago.

   Also at 138 was Stewart Cink, who was allowed to finish the 18th hole when play was suspended by darkness. He blasted out of a bunker to 2 feet and his par putt swirled in for his second straight 69.

   Another stroke back was David Duval and Phil Mickelson the also-rans at the

 Masters when Woods completed his sweep of the majors. Both had a 69, although Mickelson once again made it thrilling.

   He chipped in for birdie on No. 1 and had a hole-in-one on the 175-yard sixth hole, the ball hopping once into the cup. He also had three bogeys with the kind of mistakes he is trying to fix in order to shed the "best-to-have-never-won-a-major" label.

   Davis Love III was only two off the lead until he went bogey-double bogey. He still finished at 69 and was very much in contention at 141.

   "This kind of tournament, you can't think it's all done," Garcia said. "You have to keep playing well and keep being patient."

   That's good advice for Woods, who has never won a major from this far back after two rounds but promised his game was not as far off as it looked.

   The 33 players who didn't finish when darkness fell on Southern Hills will return at 6 a.m. MDT today. That leads to a final two rounds that figure to contain more suspense than when Woods won by 15 strokes last year.

   "Leads aren't going to matter until late on Sunday," Lewis said.

   Woods should be thankful he at least gets to return today.

   He went seven straight holes without having a birdie putt, sprinted up a hill only to see his ball disappear into a pond, flung his club after poor chips and bunker shots, and wound up nine strokes out of the lead.

   Woods played nine holes Friday morning to complete a 74, ending his streak of 38 rounds at par or better. He then started another streak with back-to-back rounds over par, the first time that's happened since the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie.

   He needed birdies on the 12th and 13th holes just to make sure he stayed within 10 strokes of the leader, the measure for marking the cut.

   "I'm trying as hard as I can," Woods said. "Sometimes, things don't go your way, and that's the way things go."

   They don't go that way very often, not for a guy who has won the last four majors, five of his last six tournaments and has not finished worse than 13th in his last 21 events.

   But not even the co-leaders were ready to count him out.

   "If I can shoot 64, he can shoot 60," Brooks said.

   Lewis, whose only PGA Tour victory was the John Deere Classic two years ago, was asked if he was more shocked that he was leading or that Woods was so far in his rearview mirror.

   "I'm more surprised he's nine strokes behind me," Lewis said. "But the way he plays, he's never out of it. He's always got a chance."

   That wasn't the case last year at Pebble Beach, where Woods made 12 birdies in the first two rounds and set a record the first of many in the U.S. Open by taking a six-stroke lead after 36 holes.

   He wound up winning by 15, the largest margin in major championship history.

   There should be plenty of drama this weekend.

   Duval, a runner-up to Woods in the Masters, has played solidly for two days and has managed to avoid big numbers. He had a 69 and was at 139.

   Mickelson had another up-and-down day in a major a hole-in-one on the 175-yard sixth hole, back-to-back bogeys followed by a birdie on the difficult 12th hole. It all added up to a 69, leaving him just three strokes behind.

   Hale Irwin, the 56-year-old three-time champion who opened with a 67, went out in 41, but birdied the difficult 18th hole for the second straight day and finished with a 75.

   Brooks parred the final seven holes, including a 12-footer that trickled into the cup on the 18th for his 64. That tied the record for lowest second round in a U.S. Open, last matched by Curtis Strange in 1989.

   "Was I trying to make it? Yes," Brooks said. "Did I care if I made it? I was trying to make sure I didn't three-putt, to be honest with you."

   Woods' fortunes might have turned on No. 11, when his tee shot came to rest on the corner of a sand-filled divot. He skipped the ball up the slope, 5 feet past the hole and made the par putt. Woods pumped his fist in a rare display of emotion, then birdied the next two holes.

   And that was that.

   "I've kept myself in the ball game," Woods said.

   Woods slipped on his tennis shoes and headed home. Perhaps he could study up on some U.S. Open history and find out that Lou Graham came from 11 strokes down at the halfway point to win in 1975.

   Or he could look at his own highlight reels a 10-stroke comeback in Germany three weeks ago, eight-stroke rallies in San Diego and Pebble Beach earlier in the year.

   The difference is this is a U.S. Open, and Southern Hills isn't giving up many birdies. Woods pointed to Brooks' 64, saying a round like that could get him going.

   "That's the beauty of it," he said. "You play a good, solid round, you're going to move up."

 

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Father, son gear up for competition

Justin Schilling
The Daily Times-Call

   LONGMONT They're not quite the Andretti's yet, but they're working on it.

   J.R. and Luke Davis might not get mentioned in the same breath as the Pettys or Unsers, but for the father-and-son racing team, the need for speed is the same.

   Competing at Colorado National Speedway in their matching Super Stock race cars, one is just taking his first high-speed baby-steps around the track while the other is rediscovering the love he had for racing more than 20 years ago.

   "I started racing in 1975 when (Colorado National) was a half-mile of dirt," J.R. Davis said. "I raced there until Luke was born, and then I quit racing, and stayed at home and built my hot rod. That way I could kind of be at home with him."

   Oddly enough, after two decades away from stock car racing, it was the son that led the father back to racing.

   "We'd go down to Colorado National and watch the races, and I got to thinking that it looked like a lot of fun," Luke said. "So we built this enduro car that I have, something inexpensive to make sure that I liked it, and I did. When my dad got his new car, I got his old one, and ran it a few races and then bought this car this season."

   The younger Davis didn't have to twist hard on his father's arm to get the family race team back up and running.

   "Luke got old enough to drive, and kind of showed a

    lot of interest in the stock cars, from me doing it in the past," J.R. said. "So we started playing around with stock cars again, and he's really enjoying it. Racing has just been in our blood. We've been jeep racing, ice racing, sand racing. My dad was a gear head, I'm a gear head and now Luke's a gear head."

   While the racing bug might be in their genes, their racing styles couldn't be more different, according to J.R.

   "He enters a corner a lot different than I do," J.R. said. "He likes to come into the bottom of the corner, where I'll come in a little higher and then turn down. If I was to climb into his race car I couldn't drive it near as well as I can mine because his is set up so different to feel right for him."

   The elder Davis is probably his son's biggest fan, but both agree that they'd rather have the other one racing against them, than watching their every move.

   "I'm not as nervous when he's racing because I know he's not watching me," Luke said. "I get really nervous sometimes when I know he's sitting watching me."

   With their feet firmly back in the competitive water, the Davis' are looking forward to climbing up through the super stock category, and then perhaps onto even bigger and brighter things.

   "We haven't mastered this class yet," J.R. said. "We've got a top-10 car right now. We're right up there with the top guys giving them a run for their money, but we're not one of the top guys yet, but we're learning. We're learning our chassis, and we're just learning how to drive a little bit. We're not really looking at the points thing, as much as we are just the camaraderie of the other drivers. Earning everyone's respect, and helping other guys, and just being one of the guys is the big thing for us."

   The younger Davis entertains even bigger dreams, and is hoping he can pick up were his father left off all those years ago.

   "Right now my goal is to run a late model down at Colorado National someday," Luke said. "Winston Cup would be nice though."  

   Justin Schilling can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 225, or by e-mail at jschilling@times-call.com.  

 

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