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On the court

Shaq keeps switch in check

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Posted: Monday June 19, 2000 04:25 PM

By Marty Burns,

LOS ANGELES --It was supposed to be one of the Pacers' main weapons in the NBA Finals. Instead it's been more of a handy tool, successful at times but nothing Shaq stays up at night worrying about

We're talking about the screen-and-roll, which has been a thorn in the side for the Lakers in recent years. While many expected the Pacers to force feed L.A. a steady diet of this NBA staple -- in order to pull Shaq out of the lane and create room for Travis Best to operate -- they have used it only occasionally.

"Against the Lakers it's hard to score in the half court," Indiana assistant coach Rick Carlisle says. "We're not calling as many set plays. We're trying to play more of a free-lance style."

As a result, when the Pacers do run the screen-and-roll against L.A., it's usually impromptu and in the flow of the action. For example, if Rik Smits is being fronted in the post, he might step out and screen for the entry passer then pop back along the baseline for an open jumper. Call it a Plan B for the offense.

Generally, the Pacers prefer to run the pick-and-roll with the lightning-quick Best at the helm and a big man like Smits or Sam Perkins setting the screen. For the Lakers, that means guard Derek Fisher and Shaq are usually the guys trying to stop it.

If the Pacers run it on the side of the court Shaq generally tries to push the ball-handler baseline and not let him get to the middle. If they run it on top, Shaq tries to string out the ball as long as he can while Fisher either goes over the screen (if he's guarding a shooter) or under it (non-shooter).

It's risky but sometimes the players can simply switch on the play, with Shaq guarding, say, Best, and Fisher taking Smits. L.A. successfully used the tactic in the closing minute of Game 4, only it was Kobe Bryant (not Fisher) switching onto Perkins while Shaq picked up Best. Perhaps surprised by the move, Best dribbled several times before pulling up and shooting an airball over the 7'1" O'Neal.

The key is Shaq must communicate with his teammate and tell him what he's doing. He also must react quickly, stepping out on Best then retreating to Smits before Best can find him. Since Best and Smits (and Perkins) are all good outside shooters, it's pick your poison.

"During the course of the game we'll switch up what we're doing and play it a different way," Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen says. "It all depends on the situation and which players are on the court."

In years past, teams like the Utah Jazz used to bludgeon the Lakers with the pick-and-roll. But that was before Phil Jackson, who led the Bulls past the Jazz in the '96 and '97 Finals, took over in L.A.

Now the pick-and-roll no longer strikes fear in the hearts of the Lakers -- or their fans.

Practice makes perfect

Because of an arena football game, both teams practiced Sunday at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo, Calif., and Pacers coach Larry Bird wasn't happy about the switch. He wanted his team, which shot just 39.6% in their two losses at Staples Center, to get another chance to practice in the cavernous arena. "The background makes it harder to shoot there," he said.

Indiana won't go into Game 6 completely cold, however. The Pacers were scheduled to hold a shootaround at Staples Center on Monday morning.

Zebra watching

The Lakers coaching staff won't want to say it publicly, but they believe the officials allowed the Pacers to get away with a lot more aggressiveness than the Lakers in Conseco Fieldhouse. In particular, they felt Sam Perkins got away with shoving Shaq in the back on defense and that Jalen Rose used his off-arm to hold off L.A. defenders in the post.

The Pacers, meanwhile, have complained all series about Shaq being in the paint for what they say is more than three seconds.

The NBA generally assigns its most experienced officials to the NBA Finals, and for the most part the crews have done a good job in this series. Still, NBA teams know how certain refs are likely to call games and adjust accordingly.

So who will be the refs in Game 6? Hard to say, but assuming the league saves veteran zebras Dick Bavetta, Hugh Evans and Joe Crawford for Game 7, if necessary, they will likely pick the Game 6 crew from this pool: Hue Hollins, Terry Durham, Bernie Fryer, Ronnie Garretson and Eddie F. Rush.

What it means is anybody's guess, but we do know the following: Less experienced refs such as Garretson, Rush and Fryer often seem to try to even out the fouls (probably good for the Pacers) and Hollins is known for having antagonized Jackson's Bulls teams, particularly Scottie Pippen.

Marty Burns covers pro basketball for Look for his columns on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Click here to send Marty a comment.

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