Lakers look to finish off Kings on Sunday
Updated: Sunday May 13, 2001 2:13 AM
A year ago, the Lakers were up 3-0 in the Western Conference semifinals and facing a road game on Mother's Day. Instead of closing out the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers lost 117-98 in one of the worst defensive games of their championship season.
"We embarrassed ourselves -- and our mothers," Rick Fox said. "I got thrown out, so my mother didn't even get to watch me. This year, we all have something to look back on and get motivated by."
The Lakers now are in the same situation against the Kings after Friday night's surprisingly easy 103-81 victory in Game 3 at Arco Arena. At practice Saturday, the Lakers said they were focused on avoiding a repeat of "The Mother's Day Massacre," as coach Phil Jackson dubbed it.
Los Angeles went just 4-6 in potential clinchers during last season's playoffs, but a victory Sunday would serve notice the Lakers, who finished off Portland on their first try in the first round, are a more focused team.
"As long as we win the series, however we do it, I'm happy," Shaquille O'Neal said, moments after looking into a television camera and jokingly thanking his mother "for making me the handsome man that I am."
Handsome or not, the Lakers' confidence is high after a convincing victory in front of the Kings' loud fans. Jackson wasn't even concerned when Kobe Bryant, who had 36 points in Game 3, went home to Los Angeles to attend to personal business. He'll be back in time for Sunday's game.
"If by some miracle it doesn't happen on Sunday ..." O'Neal said, then backtracked with another grin. "We'll get it done however we can."
If the Lakers continue their run of dominating defense, the day will be a happy one for their mothers. Even more than O'Neal's offensive prowess or Bryant's scoring poise, Los Angeles has the Kings on the brink of playoff elimination with solid defensive play.
Sacramento, the NBA's highest scoring team in the regular season, has shot less than 39 percent in the series. An inconsistent offense wasn't good enough to play with the Lakers during the first two games in Los Angeles. In Game 3, even their coach admitted the Kings panicked.
"We were so out of control, we never gave ourselves a chance," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. "It wasn't so much that they played great. We just didn't play well at all."
Much of the credit must go to the Lakers, who have seen O'Neal raise his defensive play considerably in the playoffs. When Chris Webber spoke of O'Neal's contributions in the series, the Sacramento star didn't even mention O'Neal's record-setting offensive games in Los Angeles.
"We don't seem to be the same team we were during the season, but you don't play the Lakers every day, and Shaq doesn't play the way he's been playing defensively," Webber said. "Maybe it doesn't appear that way, but our effort is there. Shaq just kept wearing us down."
While O'Neal prevents the Kings from getting key offensive rebounds and effectively driving the lane, Fox has all but neutralized Peja Stojakovic in their one-on-one battle.
The young Serbian star led the Kings with 23.3 points per game and 42 percent shooting in the first round against Phoenix, but he's scoring 18 points per game and shooting less than 35 percent against Fox's suffocating defense.
"Rick has found a rhythm to play against [Stojakovic] and anticipate what he wants to do," Jackson said. "It's become a personal duel."
Still, hope springs in Sacramento. Many of the Kings hung out after practice at their training complex on Saturday to watch the Mavericks stave off elimination in their series against the Spurs.
Cheers could be heard in the building's inner rooms when the final buzzer sounded in Dallas.
"I was sure we were going to go back 2-2," center Vlade Divac said. "We're almost done, but let's play for pride, win one, go to L.A. and see what happens."