SAN ANTONIO, May 5 (UPI) -- The San Antonio Spurs host the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers Monday night in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.
The second round of the NBA playoffs officially begins earlier in the evening, when the New Jersey Nets meet host Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
On Sunday, Spurs center Tim Duncan became the first player to win back-to-back MVP awards since Michael Jordan in 1991 and '92. On Monday, he likely will receive a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at SBC Center when he is presented with the MVP trophy, but he would most like the crowd to be cheering at the end of the game.
The Spurs won all four regular-season meetings from Los Angeles, but the Lakers have eliminated San Antonio from the playoffs each of the last two years, winning eight of the nine postseason games -- 4-1 in the second round last year, and 4-0 in the conference final in 2001.
Many of the Lakers said afterwards that Duncan's predictable passing off the double teams made it easier to rotate their defense. However, the Spurs' key additions, wing players Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson, make them more athletic for this series.
The Spurs likely will use as many as four players to contend with the 7-1, 335-pound O'Neal, who missed two of the four regular-season games against San Antonio. Center David Robinson, in his last NBA season, will get help from Duncan, Malik Rose, and Kevin Willis against O'Neal.
Bryant imposed his will in last year's playoff series, leading the Lakers a pair of down-to-the-wire wins in San Antonio. Bruce Bowen likely will draw the assignment of guarding Bryant.
The Lakers won their 13th straight playoff series under Phil Jackson, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves, 4-2, in the first round. Los Angeles won the last two games by a combined 46 points.
O'Neal and Bryant combined for 60.5 points per game, accounting for 57 percent of the Lakers' offense in the first round. O'Neal also averaged 15.3 rebounds, and Bryant had 6.7 assists.
Duncan faced constant double teams in the Spurs' 4-2 series victory over Phoenix, and took just 12 shots per game, but the 7-footer still averaged 18.7 points on 52 percent shooting along with 16 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 3.5 blocked shots per contest.
Point guard Jason Kidd averaged a triple double when the Nets beat the Celtics, 4-2 in the Eastern Conference finals last year.
Kidd averaged 17.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 10.2 assists against the Celtics last season.
Tony Delk averaged 15.5 points and hit 13-of-30 three-pointers in Boston's 4-2 series win over the Indiana Pacers in the first round, but playing against Kidd will be far different than Indiana's tandem of Jamaal Tinsley and aging Tim Hardaway.
"Boston's guards are going to be in a lot of trouble," said Milwaukee guard Gary Payton, who was outplayed by Kidd in the first round.
Boston star Paul Pierce hopes to erase the memory of last year's series against the Nets, when he shot 36 percent from the field (40-of-110), with a 10-for-29 effort from the floor in Games Five and Six, both Celtic losses.
In New Jersey's clinching Game Six win, Pierce and Antoine Walker shot a combined 12-of-36 for 30 points.
Including last year's playoff series, the Nets have won six of the last seven meetings from Boston, taking the last three by an average of 21 points.