Work in Sports
Lakers wake up with 33-point hangover
Posted: Saturday June 17, 2000 09:45 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Lakers awoke in their own city Saturday with a 33-point hangover, not yet champs but not quite chumps.
Sure, they lost Game 5 to the Indiana Pacers by the most lopsided margin they've had all season. But no one will remember that debacle for long if the Lakers, leading 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can win one of the next two games on their home court.
"I'm upset, but the Indiana Pacers shot the hell out of the ball," Shaquille O'Neal said. "They played very, very inspired basketball."
Indeed they did, shooting 15-for-20 in the first period, including 6-for-6 from 3-point range, to take a commanding lead they never relinquished.
Game 6 is set for Monday night and Game 7, if necessary, will be Wednesday.
The sense of desperation that the Pacers exhibited will need to make a return appearance at the Staples Center, where Indiana has never won. The Pacers are 0-3 there against the Lakers, including losses in Games 1 and 2 of the finals, and they even lost a game there to the Clippers in early January.
The Pacers were at their best playing in the comfy confines of Conseco Fieldhouse, drawing energy from the roars of the Hoosier housewives and their husbands who seemed to make up 80 percent of the crowd.
But they've been a different team under the bright lights of the Staples Center, where the courtside celebrities wear sunglasses indoors and sing the cheesy song "I Love L.A." during timeouts.
"There's no intimidation factor," Indiana guard Mark Jackson said. "I think in Game 1 we probably weren't ready for what hit us. Just the hype, the intensity of the finals, and we played on our heels. In Game 2, I thought we played well. We gave ourselves an opportunity but we didn't take advantage of when Kobe [Bryant] went down. But we're a team that feels very confident in going into someone else's building and winning. We have a history of doing just that."
Both teams took the day off Saturday, the Pacers catching an afternoon flight to the West Coast after the Lakers flew home immediately following Friday night's 120-87 loss.
The Pacers have found ways to confound the Lakers as this series has evolved, as evidenced by their 118 points in Game 4 and 120 points in Game 5.
Every time Reggie Miller pops out of a low-post screen, he seems to have all the daylight he needs to square up and shoot. Whenever Rik Smits gets the ball in one of his comfort zones -- anywhere from 8 feet to 18 feet away -- he has been able to knock down his shot. Whenever Austin Croshere comes off the bench, he has been able to use his bulk and brawn to power his way to the basket for easy shots.
Whoever the Lakers assign to guard Jalen Rose, be it Rick Fox, Glen Rice or anyone else, has found himself at a disadvantage.
"To be honest, I think I'm a tough matchup for a lot of guys because I'm taller than people expect and I have the ability to shoot the 3 as well as dribble, drive and post," Rose said. "There aren't too many guys that can do that. Any time you're a guy that can do a lot of different things to put the ball in the basket, it's tough for guys to match up with you.
"Do you come out on me, contest a 3 and allow me to get my dribble-drive game going, or do you double-team me in the post and allow me to pass to other guys?"
Lakers coach Phil Jackson admitted after Game 5 that his team's defense was an area of concern, although he didn't place much stock in the theory that the Pacers have the Lakers reeling.
It's still the Lakers who are in command; it's still the Pacers who are desperate. The only way that will change is if Indiana can win Game 6, setting up the first Game 7 in an NBA Finals since 1994, when the Houston Rockets defeated the New York Knicks.
The Lakers can be expected to try to return to one of the strategies that served them so well in the first two games of the finals -- getting the ball to O'Neal deep in the low post instead of 10 feet away.
The Pacers have had success nudging O'Neal a few extra steps away from the basket. Outside of three feet, O'Neal turns from virtually unstoppable to somewhat containable.
The Lakers also will expect Bryant to get back with the program, finding his shots within the offense instead of trying to do too much all by himself while his teammates stand around.
Coming off a spectacular performance in Game 4, Bryant was miserable in Game 5, shooting only 4-for-20, including 1-for-11 in the second half.
"Kobe is a young superstar, but the key to that is 'young,'" Rose said. "Any time you're a young player, you're going to have your moments where you struggle. I'm sure he's going to chalk this up as a moment where he struggled and he's going to be amped and ready to play -- just like the Pacers will be."
This will be the Lakers' 10th game in this postseason in which they have had a chance to close out an opponent.
They are 3-6 in such games, evidence that the killer instinct they need is not always available to be summoned.
One more loss for the Lakers and it's a whole different series -- best-of-one.
First up, though, is their last chance to play from ahead.
"We wanted to be champions tonight," Bryant said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen. So we're a little disappointed, but it's no biggie when you think about it."
Not yet, anyway.
The biggie is Monday night, and the big biggie, if necessary, is two nights later.