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They planned it this way
The top two seeds -- surprise! -- are the ones left standing
Posted: Tuesday June 06, 2000 01:10 PM
This is a special edition of the NBA Week at a Glance. It will appear every day until the NBA Finals conclude.
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
LOS ANGELES -- Back in the middle of January, when the Los Angeles Lakers took a 16-game winning streak into Indianapolis, many believed that game would be a preview of the NBA Finals.
Well, well. Looky what we have here. Just what Dr. Stern ordered.
The Lakers and the Indiana Pacers indeed meet again, this time for all the proverbial NBA marbles. And it took only -- what? -- nearly two months of playoff games, three rounds and way too many late, late night starts to get here.
Along the way, the two finalists did get tested a bit. The Lakers faced two elimination games -- against the Kings in the first round and the Blazers in the Western Conference finals. The Pacers faced one, in the first round against the Bucks.
The Lakers went 11-6. The Pacers 11-6.
In the end, though, the two teams that everyone said would be here -- the top seeds in their conferences -- made it. And now it is the Lakers -- they've been everyone's favorites all season, especially the TV networks -- who open the NBA Finals on Wednesday night as the favorites to win the title.
Game 2 is scheduled for Friday night before the series switches to Indianapolis for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary). Games 6 and 7 will be back in L.A., if this thing gets that far.
"What we don't want to let happen right now is let our focus go," Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal said after his team's stirring Game 7 win over the Blazers on Sunday. "All year we've been talking about getting to the Finals. Now that we've made it to the Finals, we've got to develop a new focus."
Focus, or a lack of it, is the biggest rap against the Lakers. It is maybe the only reason the Lakers aren't favored in a near-sweep of the Finals. Everyone figured O'Neal and his teammates would roll through the playoffs. It hasn't been that way.
It wasn't that way in January, either, when they went to Indy's Conseco Fieldhouse with their 16-game streak. They lost, 111-102.
To be fair, the Lakers spanked the Pacers in a rematch at Staples Center later in the season. But the message was sent: The Lakers can be beat.
The Lakers, finally, may be getting the message.
And that can't be good for the Pacers.
Tuesday, the two teams are scheduled to practice at Staples Center and then get their first taste of the crush of national and international media here to cover this most-global of American professional sports.
Game 1 tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. on the East Coast.
You'll get your answer soon enough.
On to the NBA Finals Day at a Glance, which before everything gets completely nutso around here asks this question: How many questions will Indiana's Rik Smits have to field about his socks?
The answer: We'll tell you on Wednesday, but our guess is one too many.
| No West for the Weary |
|Did that Game 7 against the Blazers -- that whole series, really -- take anything out of the Lakers? The Pacers went only six games with the Knicks and were kicking back watching the West teams beat up on each other. This may be the Pacers' best bet to steal one in L.A.|
| Larry's Last Stand |
|Legend Larry Bird is calling it quits as Indiana coach after the NBA Finals. He's been a successful coach -- how can you not respect that guy? -- but the gig simply never agreed with him. . |
| Showtime Redux |
|And doesn't it fit that Bird is going up against his old nemesis, the Lakers, back in the Finals again. This new version of Showtime figures to be around for awhile, too. Magic will be watching. |
| The ABA Lives! |
|The Pacers are in their first NBA Finals in their 24th season, and are only the second ABA team to make it. Good news for them: The San Antonio Spurs, last season's NBA champs, were the first. ||
| HOT: Shaquille O'Neal |
Forget the free throws. This guy hits those when it counts, and he does everything else. The league MVP leads all scorers and rebounders (28.2 ppg. 15 rpg) in the playoffs and is the heart of the Lakers. And, if you saw Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, you know these Lakers have heart.
| COLD: Rik Smits |
The Pacers need their hopalong center, and in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals, he was nowhere to be found. He shot 1-for-10 in those games -- the 10 shots are almost as alarming as only one made -- and he played only 12.5 minutes per game. Point total: Four. Shaw must be salivating.
| COLD: A.C. Green |
The weak link in the Lakers' starting five, Green is averaging only 3.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the playoffs -- down from his season average of 5.0 and 5.9. This is a guy the Pacers will attack.
| HOT: Reggie Miller |
All the world's Reggie's stage now -- and don't you think he doesn't know it. The man who makes the Pacers go scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of the series-clinching win over the Knicks, making all three of his 3-pointers and all eight of his free throws. If he gets hot -- or stays hot, we should say -- the Lakers are in for more than they bargained for.
| Not to harp on this thing, but The Glance HATES the late-night games. Only one of the seven possible games -- Sunday's Game 3 -- starts before 9 p.m. Eastern. Hey, NBA, if you want to get your future customers interested, push those games up an hour or so. The Glance already is sleepy.
| Maybe we're wrong -- we hope we are -- but this whole NBA Finals thing ... can it be any better than the Western Conference finals? The word "anti-climactic" keeps springing to mind.
| The Glance likes the fact that guys like Derrick McKey and Smits and Miller and all those Pacers veterans finally get a chance to play in the NBA Finals. One word of advice, fellas. Enjoy it now, win or lose. The Lakers will be back. This may be your only shot for awhile.
| And while we're in a giving mood -- props to the Lakers, who were expected to be here and who finally showed the heart and the mettle to stand up to all the expectations. With an emerging Kobe Bryant and an already-dominant O'Neal, this should be a team to beat for the next decade.
| Phil Jackson |
| Swish : You love the fact this guy has pulled the talent together and has it on the verge of another championship.|
Brick : Wouldn't you like to see if he could do it without the league's best player?
| Larry Bird |
| Swish : You love the fact a great player like him can coach a team this far.|
Brick : How much is this guy really coaching?
| New arenas |
| Swish : Both the Staples Center and Conseco Fieldhouse are state-of-the-art buildings, fun to be in and great places to watch games.|
Brick : We miss the Gahhhden.
| Jack and the Gang |
| Swish : It's fun to see all the stars courtside at the NBA Finals.|
Brick : Hey, can we get one of those seats?
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