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Lakers Team Report

L.A.'s Bryant savoring his next step toward greatness

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Posted: Tuesday June 06, 2000 09:04 PM

  In only his fourth year in the league Kobe Bryant looks to add NBA champion to his resume. AP

By John Donovan,

LOS ANGELES -- The NBA Finals isn't just about winning the NBA title. It can also be about making a statement, about arriving, about becoming The Man.

For the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, this is his time. And he knows it.

"I've waited all my life to get to this point," the 21-year-old Bryant said Tuesday as the Lakers prepared for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, scheduled for Wednesday. "I think you can be a great basketball player, but until you lead your team to the big one, you'll be easily forgotten."

The Lakers are the favorites in these Finals -- few, if any, expect it to go past six games -- largely because of two people. Shaquille O'Neal, the league MVP and the most dominant player in the NBA today, is one.

And Bryant, still young, still learning and already so, so dangerous, is the other.

Since coming straight out of high school three seasons ago, people have been expecting Bryant to take his game, and his team's, to some otherworldly level. This may be the first year he reached it.

Bryant averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season. He's averaging 22.8, 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the playoffs.

"I think he's doing it with less energy," the Lakers' Derek Fisher said of teammate, when asked to compare this year's Kobe with last year's. "It doesn't look like he's taking over. He just does."

Bryant still has a stubborn streak of wildness in him, when he'll go one-on-one and suddenly find five defenders in his face. But those times are more rare, even if they'll never disappear completely.

"Great players are supposed to do that. That's what makes them great players," Fisher said. "And Kobe will be great."

This would be a better time than most to prove it.

Strategy of the Day

One key to keeping the Pacers in check, the Lakers figure, is to watch out for Travis Best.

Indiana's not-so-secret weapon is averaging almost 10 points a game in the playoffs off the bench, shooting better than 42 percent from the floor and almost 85 percent from the free throw line.

He is the best ballhandler, the best penetrator, the best disrupter the Pacers have. He is the curveball in the Pacers' steady diet of hard stuff.

He could get in the lane, maybe draw O'Neal into some foul trouble and certainly open up the outside for the Pacers' 3-point shooters.

The Lakers will make a point of trying to stop that.

Expect a lot of different looks from L.A., but when Best is in the game, especially at crunch time, either Brian Shaw or Fisher could be on him.

And if they're not doing the job, Lakers coach Phil Jackson could switch the 6-foot-7 Bryant on the 5-foot-11 Best just to make Best think about things.

Quote of the Day

L.A.'s Ron Harper, addressing how he's dealt with a stuttering problem his whole life, on Portland's Rasheed Wallace, who evidently said something to Harper about it during the Western Conference finals: "Whatever he said ... he's having some nice time off now, isn't he?"

Related information
SI's Marty Burns: Finals Breakdown
Pacers Report: Oh, to be an underdog
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