Though it is far too early to declare any game a defining contest for the 2004/05 campaign, you can be excused if you thought last night’s 105-96 victory for San Antonio visiting L.A. was a harbinger of things to come from both teams. The LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan suggests that this rivalry is over.

Spurs guard Brent Barry, trying to express what sets the Spurs apart from most of the Lakers, suggested beforehand the Lakers could try something close to “sacrificing live chickens” to try to stop Tim Duncan now that Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone are no longer around.

Sure enough, Duncan was his usual self Friday, scoring 26 points, taking 16 rebounds and representing a big enough presence in the key to free up Parker and Manu Ginobili (above) for good looks from the outside. Parker finished with 16 points and Ginobili had 18.

“I think this is the top team, if not one of the top teams, in the league,” Laker Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said before the game. “I thought they were great last year and then you add [free agent] Brent Barry to this combination and, man, on paper it sure looks good.”

The top rivalry in the West, if not the NBA in recent years, the Spurs and Lakers met in the playoffs five of the last six seasons, with the winner taking the championship every time before last season.

Perhaps that’s why Spur Coach Gregg Popovich sounded wistful as he spoke of the Laker-Spur rivalry over the years, comparing the Laker off-season of upheaval to “the breakup of the Soviet Union.”