Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the defending champions, and are headed to the NBA finals for the first time in 4 years.

Bryant scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers rallied from an early 17-point deficit to beat the San Antonio Spurs, 100-92, last night and win the Western Conference finals in five games.

The Lakers are 12-3 in the playoffs, including 8-0 at the Staples Center, where they haven't lost in 2 months. They have won 14 straight home games and 21 of their last 24 postseason games at home.

They get a week off before opening the NBA finals next Thursday night at Boston or Detroit. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 with Game 6 tonight in Auburn Hills, Mich.

A basket by Lamar Odom gave the Lakers an 83-76 lead with 5:40 remaining, but a three-pointer by Brent Barry and a basket by Tony Parker drew the Spurs within two points. Manu Ginobili missed a three-pointer that could have given San Antonio the lead before Bryant's jumper with 3:33 to play made it 85-81.

A foul shot by Tim Duncan drew the Spurs within three, but two more baskets by Bryant made it 89-82 with 1:47 to play, and the Spurs weren't closer than five points after that.

Odom added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Pau Gasol had 12 points, a career playoff-high 19 rebounds and five assists for the Lakers.

Parker scored 23 points and Duncan had 19 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for the Spurs.

San Antonio's elimination might signal the end of its era of dominance. With Duncan leading the way, the Spurs won championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, but with a rotation made up solely of 30-something players except for the 26-year-old Parker, the future seems uncertain.

Noteworthy

* Doug Collins, who guided the Chicago Bulls and a young Michael Jordan from 1986 to '89 but couldn't get them past Detroit in the playoffs, has talked with the team about returning as coach.

* The NBA had seven black top executives among its 30 teams during the 2007-08 season, the highest percentage of minority presidents and CEOs in men's professional sports history.

* Detroit's Rasheed Wallace was fined $25,000 by the NBA for using profanity and criticizing the officiating after the Pistons' loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Wallace went on an expletive-laced rant targeting officials Mike Callahan and Kenny Mauer.

"The cats are flopping all over the floor and they're calling that," Wallace said. "That ain't basketball out there. It's all entertainment. You all should know that."

In a related matter, commissioner David Stern said flopping will become subject to fines. *