|SI's Marty Burns' Breakdown|
|Sacramento || ||L.A. Lakers |
| Vlade Divac backed up Shaq at this year's All-Star Game, but now he has to go against him. The veteran 7-footer will try to use his guile (and flopping technique) to slow the Diesel, while luring him out of the lane at the other end with his ability to hit outside shots.
|| CENTER |
| Shaquille O'Neal has raised his game down the stretch to last year's unstoppable MVP level. He keyed L.A.'s first-round sweep of the Blazers with his all-around play (27 points, 15.7 rebounds). If he keeps hitting his free throws at a 60 percent clip, he will dominate. |
| Chris Webber is one of the game's best all-around big men, a superb scorer, passer and rebounder. He didn't play great against the Suns, partly because of sore ankles, but he did enough to lead his team to the second round. He'll need to step up against L.A., especially on the defensive end as a helper against Shaq. Peja Stojakovic (23.3 points, 7.5 rebounds vs. the Suns) can shoot out the lights, and will need to be on target for the Kings to have a chance.
|| FORWARDS |
| Horace Grant's reward for doing such an admirable job against Rasheed Wallace in the Blazers series? He gets to face Webber, one of the game's toughest covers. Grant is a sly veteran, however, and he'll make C-Webb work for his points. Rick Fox has picked up his game at both ends. He must keep a hand in the face of Stojakovic, while not neglecting his responsibilities on the boards.
| Doug Christie has the size, range and quickness to make things tough for Kobe Bryant. He also hurt L.A. this season at the offensive end, averaging 18.5 points (though Bryant missed two of the four games). Jason Williams played well at the point against Phoenix, averaging 12.3 points on 51.4 percent shooting. He'll need to push the tempo, since Sacramento doesn't want to get in a half-court game with Shaq & Co.
|| GUARDS |
| Bryant was his old sensational self against the Blazers, averaging 25 points and 7.7 assists while doing an outstanding job sharing the ball. He's battling sore ribs, but otherwise appears to be as healthy as he has been all season. Derek Fisher also played well against Portland, playing solid defense, making hustle plays and hitting 3-point shots to open the floor. |
| Scot Pollard, a high-energy rebounder and defender, should play a pivotal role as the first big man off the bench. He must use his fouls wisely against Shaq and try to outrun him when possible. Bobby Jackson will be counted on to provide defense at the point, while rookie Hidayet Turkoglu can rebound and hit the 3-pointer. Jon Barry is an underrated player who always seems to provide a spark with his hustle.
|| BENCH |
| Brian Shaw and Robert Horry are proven veterans who will contribute and make big shots. They'll be joined by backup point guard Tyronn Lue and small forward Devean George. Veteran guard Ron Harper also returns after missing two months with a knee injury. With reserve center Jeff Foster still battling foot injuries, rookie Mark Madsen gets the nod as Shaq's main backup. |
| Rick Adelman has to be getting annoyed with Jackson. He has now lost to the Zen Master in the '92 NBA Finals (with Portland) and in last year's first-round (with Sacramento). He would love nothing more than to turn the tables here.
|| COACH |
| Phil Jackson has already started the mind games, poking fun at the Kings' championship-like celebration after their first-round win at Phoenix. He usually knows the temperature of his team, and his playoff record speaks for itself. |
| The Kings took the Lakers to five games in last year's first round, so they feel they can compete with them. However, this is their first trip to the conference semis since '81, when the franchise was located in Kansas City. Without home-court advantage, it's going to be tough for them to advance.
|| INTANGIBLES |
| After sweeping the Blazers, the Lakers have won a season-high 11 in a row. Shaq and Kobe seem to be getting along, and the team is feeling good again about its chances. They also have a vast edge in experience and, if necessary, a decisive seventh game in the Staples Center.
| Stojakovic. He torched the Suns, especially in Game 4 when he had a playoff career-high 37 points. With Divac figuring to be tied up with Shaq, he must step up again and provide help for Webber both in scoring and rebounding.
|| 'X' FACTOR |
| Fisher. Not only must he continue to hit shots and distribute the ball, he also must spearhead L.A.'s defense. If he can't slow Sacramento's pick-and-roll, Divac will lure Shaq out of the lane and leave openings for Webber inside. |
|Burns' Prediction: Lakers in 6|