Work in Sports
Posted: Friday April 21, 2000 02:44 PM
No one in Hollywood would dream of making a film that ended with the Lakers' failing to win the 2000 NBA championship, and not just because half of the Screen Actors Guild cheers the team on from courtside at the Staples Center. Through Sunday the Lakers had lost only seven games this season when both center Shaquille O'Neal and guard Kobe Bryant were in the lineup, so a scenario in which they lose a playoff series seems even less believable than your average James Bond flick. Still, here's how some of the other contenders would pitch their scripts for an upset, from the most to the least likely.
SpursA legendary Western duo (San Antonio forward Tim Duncan and center David Robinson) teams up to protect its championship in a showdown with O'Neal. Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid meets High Noon. Duncan, 7-feet, and Robinson, 7'1", have the size to effectively double-team O'Nealso long as Duncan's injured left knee holds upand the first step to beating L.A. is to make Shaq pass. Defensively, Lakers power forwards A.C. Green and Robert Horry match up poorly against whichever 7-footer O'Neal doesn't guard. San Antonio routed the Lakers twice during the regular season, although O'Neal didn't play in one of the games. Verdict: There's a chance that this script will have a happy ending for the Spurs.
KingsSacramento's spunky players keep the fast break careering down the court for an entire series, knowing that if they slow down, the Lakers will blow them to bits. Think Hoosiers meets Speed. This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, because with a starting lineup that includes gimpy guard Ron Harper and the 36-year-old Green, the Lakers aren't particularly athletic. With forward Chris Webber and center Vlade Divac, the Kings, who beat the Lakers once and lost to them three times by a total of 11 points, also have the front-court firepower to make the Lakers pay for their lack of low-post defense. Verdict: Keep this script around; it has possibilities.
Trail BlazersA large, star-studded cast overcomes late-season somnambulism to redeem itself in the final scene. Think The Magnificent Seven meets Rocky. The Blazers have the depth (Arvydas Sabonis, Rasheed Wallace, Brian Grant and Jermaine O'Neal) to throw several defenders at Shaq. They have almost as many weapons on the perimeter: Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith and Damon Stoudamire. Without a true point guard in the starting lineup, the Lakers are vulnerable to defensive pressure, and Portland can apply it. But the Blazers faded so badly over their last 26 games that they don't seem mentally ready to pull off an upset. Verdict: The problem here isn't the script, it's the actors.
KnicksTwo seemingly mismatched partners (New York guard Allan Houston and forward Latrell Sprewell) join forces with a crotchety center (Patrick Ewing) who's past his prime to bring down L.A. Think Lethal Weapon meets Grumpy Old Men. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Lakers are well-equipped to counter New York's strengths. The Knicks rely on Sprewell and Houston to break down defenses off the dribble, but Bryant, Harper and Glen Rice kept them from doing that in the teams' two regular-season meetings. Ewing in the low post is New York's next-best optionbut not against O'Neal. Verdict: The Knicks' approach works well enough on Broadway but not in Hollywood.
JazzAn aging team proves that it's still spry enough to execute a detailed plan with great precision. Think Cocoon meets Mission: Impossible. Utah's Karl Malone and John Stockton have made this work in the past, but these aren't the Lakers of yore. L.A. has improved its perimeter defense, and the Lakers are likely to disrupt the Jazz's pick-and-roll. Verdict: This outdated screenplay needs major rewrites.
PacersIndiana wins one for outgoing coach Larry Bird, using a Rose as a recurring theme throughout the series. Think The Knute Rockne Story meets American Beauty. Indiana won't have much going for it other than versatile forward Jalen Rose and the motivation of sending Bird home a champion. The Pacers will no doubt try to apply the fourth-quarter defensive pressure that disrupted the Lakers' offense in a 111-102 Indiana win in January, but it's hard to imagine that strategy succeeding for an entire series. Verdict: Not even George Lucas could make this piece of far-out science fiction work.
HeatThe ruthless, intimidating head of an organization (Miami president and coach Pat Riley) convinces his team that it has enough gas left to make one final run at a championship. Think The Godfather meets The Usual Suspects. Riley has been using his most tested motivational ploys latelyrailing against the media, the fans and his playersbut the Heat seems spent. Point guard Tim Hardaway is playing with leg and foot ailments, so even if center Alonzo Mourning neutralizes O'Neal, the Lakers have a huge advantage on the perimeter, where Bryant and Rice should be too much for Dan Majerle and Jamal Mashburn to handle. Verdict: Without a healthy Hardaway, the Miami script is a bomb.
The Rest of the FieldForget it. Think Dead Man Walking.
Issue date: April 24, 2000