Work in Sports
Lakers' Team Report
Just one win away, Lakers want to get it over with
Posted: Thursday June 15, 2000 04:36 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- One win away from a practically guaranteed NBA title, the Los Angeles Lakers have just one demon left to conquer.
Can they close out the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday? Or will the Lakers toy around with their opponents, as they have done so often in the past, and stretch this series to a sixth, maybe even a seventh game?
"Hopefully, we will learn from the series where we had Portland down 3-1," said Lakers guard Brian Shaw, speaking of the Western Conference finals that the Blazers stretched to a seventh game. "We're going to look at this [Game 5 Friday night] that it could possibly be our last game of the season."
No team ever has blown a 3-1 lead in the Finals, and the Lakers aren't likely to be the first. But the Lakers want to make sure they win the title on their first try, rather than give Indiana any hope by taking the series back to L.A.
"As soon as possible," said forward Rick Fox. "I'm sure there will be a lot of fans in L.A. who would like to be part of the celebration. But I don't think they'd trade that in for a chance to win the championship."
The Lakers have been forced to elimination games in two of the three previous playoff rounds (Sacramento took them to a fifth game in the opening round). They even had to mount a 15-point comeback in the fourth quarter of the Portland series to make it to the Finals.
But now they're here, and the excitement among the players as they finished up practice Thursday at Conseco Fieldhouse was almost to the boiling point.
"I'm trying not to think about it [winning a title] that much," center Shaquille O'Neal said. "I don't want to get too amped up. We're going to be very prepared, we're going to be loose. My guys are going to be loose. We're going to be prepared to win, win, win. I'm sure if we get the win, I'm sure all the emotions will probably come out."
Coach Phil Jackson will stress the one game Friday, rather than what will happen if the Lakers win it -- or what will happen if they don't.
"We'll talk about the game. That's the important aspect of it," Jackson said. "We expect a very, very difficult time to win. We just want to place ourselves in a position to win a game and see how it goes from there."
Strategy of the Day
The return of Kobe Bryant gave L.A. just what it needed: A player who can break down the defense off the dribble, which forces teams to flock to him to help and opens up other players for easy shots or easy rebounds.
Jackson spread the floor late in Game 4 to let Bryant take over. If the game gets close, or the Lakers absolutely need to make a run, expect Jackson to green-light his 21-year-old star again.
But Bryant, who has shown an increasing maturity and patience, knows where the Lakers' big points come from, and that's from center Shaquille O'Neal. The still-to-be-named MVP of the Finals is averaging 38 points and 19.25 rebounds a game.
Quote of the Day
Fox, on his thoughts on the day about a year ago when Jackson was named coach of the Lakers: "I remember watching the press conference. I hadn't signed with the Lakers yet, but I'll tell you. They probably could have gotten me for a dollar at that point."