Jackson expects stern challenge from Blazers in first round
Updated: Friday April 20, 2001 11:24 AM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -- Forget the record, coach Phil Jackson says. Outside of San Antonio, the Portland Trail Blazers represent the toughest Western Conference opponent for the Los Angeles Lakers.
That seems difficult to comprehend considering the fractious Blazers were 17-18 over the season's final three months after winning 33 of their first 47 games.
"I can't tell you what happened to them," said Jackson, whose team opens defense of its NBA championship against the Blazers on Sunday at Staples Center in a best-of-five first-round series. "They had a real big slump they went through.
"They match up well against us, they're a very good team against us."
Maybe so, as evidenced by their 11-9 regular-season record against the Lakers since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant arrived in 1996, but not very good against everyone else lately.
The Blazers had a 3-7 record in April, with two of the wins over Golden State (17-65) and the other over Vancouver (23-59).
"There was a lot of things ongoing behind the scenes that they did a good job of keeping under wraps," Lakers forward Rick Fox said of the Blazers. "Because of our distractions, because we were defending champions, we were a bigger story."
One of the distractions the Lakers faced involved the presence of former Blazers guard Isaiah Rider, who's had problems wherever he's played. That proved to be the case this season, and Rider was not on the team's playoff roster, submitted Thursday to the NBA.
Harper, a starter until going on the injured list with a knee injury two months ago, isn't quite ready to return yet, Jackson said, but should be in the next week or so.
As far as Lue is concerned, Jackson said, "All three teams we anticipate facing, if we're fortunate enough to get to the Western Conference finals, have speed at the point guard position."
Lue, who finished the regular season on the injured list, fits that bill as a backup to Fisher.
"I can't say I didn't expect it, I can't say I did," Lue said of being on the roster.
He said he was told when he arrived at practice Thursday.
"I felt great, I went up to Horace Grant and gave him a big hug," Lue said.
Rider, meanwhile, didn't speak with reporters.
Mike Penberthy and Stanislav Medvedenko were also left off the playoff roster.
The Lakers (56-26) were as good late in the season as the Blazers were bad, winning their last eight games to earn the Pacific Division championship and No. 2 seed in the West. Portland (50-32) is the seventh seed.
"We're very pleased with the chemistry on this team," Jackson said, something he couldn't always say this season, especially in January when O'Neal and Bryant squabbled through the media.
"We're playing great right now, we've got a great rhythm going," said Bryant, who returned for the final four games after missing nine of 10 with a sprained ankle.
The oncourt relationship between Bryant and O'Neal seems very good now, and both have seemingly gone out of their way to praise the other recently.
The Blazers, who blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead to Los Angeles in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals last June, held a 100-99 lead over the Lakers just last Sunday at Staples Center before being outscored 6-0 to finish the game.
That continued the problems they've been having in the late stages of games.
"At times, we've been a little impatient, as far as we've quick-shot the ball or been aggressive with the basketball at times when they play wasn't there, as opposed to just settling down and running what we need to run," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said.
Kemp contributed less than expected before entering a rehab program April 6 with a drug problem, and Wells was lost for the season the same day Kemp left due to a torn knee ligament.
"That's the million-dollar question," guard Damon Stoudamire said when asked if the Blazers will be ready. "I guess when a team isn't playing well, there's no better way to go into the first round of the playoffs than playing the defending champions.
"It's going to be a big uphill battle for us. We don't have anything to lose right now."