Work in Sports
Turning the tables
Lakers look to sweep rather than be swept
Posted: Sunday May 14, 2000 12:27 AM
PHOENIX (AP) -- After being swept out of the NBA playoffs the last two seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers could be doing the sweeping this time.
The steady leadership of Phil Jackson, the spectacular ability of Kobe Bryant and the performance of the role players all have helped the Lakers to a 3-0 lead over Phoenix.
But the Lakers are leading the Western Conference semifinals mainly for one 7-foot-1, 325-pound reason. Shaquille O'Neal has been just too much for the Suns.
In the series, O'Neal has averaged 37.3 points and 17 rebounds. Even the "Hack-A-Shaq" tactics backfired in Friday night's 105-99 victory, with O'Neal shooting 9-of-15 from the line. He's shooting 58 percent from the field (45-for-77), and his baskets haven't all been point-black stuffs.
"It's not like he's taking us down in the post and bullying us. It's not that," the Suns' Luc Longley said. "It's his overall game, and that's the difference between two or three years ago."
If the Lakers, 7-0 against Phoenix this season, win Game 4 on Sunday, they will complete their first playoff sweep since 1991 and their first sweep of a four-game series since 1989.
"We've made a lot of progress," O'Neal said Saturday. "Coach Jackson has done a good job of keeping us together, keeping us out of trouble and keeping us very focused. We're looking to close it down tomorrow."
Suns coach Scott Skiles said O'Neal's expanded repertoire of offensive moves has compounded the difficulty in defending him.
"It sounds crazy to say," Skiles said, "but I think we're doing a good job on the guy."
After close losses in Games 2 and 3, Phoenix faced the prospect of going into Game 4 without Cliff Robinson, who sprained his right ankle when he stepped on O'Neal's foot late in the third quarter Friday night.
"If I had to play today, I probably couldn't," Robinson said. "I'd just be hobbling around. We'll see tomorrow after I ice it and treat it."
Skiles believes free-throw shooting, not O'Neal, has been the difference in the series. The Lakers are 72-for-105 at the line, including 35-for-51 Friday night. The Suns are 60-for-83.
"They're making more free throws than we're shooting," Skiles said, a slight exaggeration. "Every other statistic is right on the line. It's been the same thing for us all year long. We shoot the fewest free throws of any team in the playoffs, 22 a game."
To what does he attribute the disparity?
"I don't know. I'll leave that to other people," Skiles said. "I'm simply stating a fact."
Skiles was asked if he'd called league officials to complain about the officiating.
"I don't really want to get into that," he said, "because the next question will be, 'What did I say?'"
Jackson said there are many reasons for the free-throw discrepancy, mainly the fact the Suns have chosen to foul O'Neal often.
"We have Shaquille, and people want to foul Shaquille," Jackson said. "When that ends up happening, then it becomes an issue because the end result is you get in the foul penalty early, then the fouls you make against Glen Rice or Robert Horry or Kobe, you've got them going to the line in the penalty."
The Suns' Penny Hardaway has averaged 27.7 points and shot 58 percent from the field in the series, a performance that has restored a reputation tainted by his troubled final seasons in Orlando. But he said his individual efforts are no consolation.
"We're still down 3-0," he said. "I don't care how many points I score as long as we win."
Jason Kidd, shooting just 29 percent in the series as he tries to come back from a broken ankle, said that the team's experiences this season guarantees they won't roll over in Game 4.
"Everything that we've been through, the injuries, the coaching change. There's not one team in this league that's been through as much as we have that's been successful," Kidd said. "We're not going to give up. We could have thrown in the towel a long time ago, but we're going to keep on fighting."