?Most important, go hard at the Lakers early, and if that doesn't work, keep challenging them. Break their spirit with effort, as the T-Wolves did in Game 5 after L.A. took a 10-point lead in the first quarter. "They do not have the killer instinct, and they will back down," said one player. Offers a coach, "It used to be when you had them down 12, they'd beat you by 20. Now, when you get a lead, you can hold them off. They won't make a charge." The Lakers know this about themselves, which makes it all the more frustrating. "We have a tendency to be fat and lazy," says Jackson, adding that before Game 5 he was angered by what he called a "giddy" ambience in the locker room.
"We're our own biggest obstacle," says reserve forward Rick Fox. "Until we sense urgency, we tend to float, and sometimes we float ourselves right out of games. It's unprofessional and embarrassing, but it's a characteristic of this team."
And one that makes the Finals intriguing. Both the Pistons and the Pacers are hearty competitors who are well-coached (as the Timberwolves were) and able to make adjustments that will, at times, stymie Los Angeles. Before bowing to the San Antonio Spurs last season, the Lakers needed six games to win in '00, five in '01 and four in '02. This time they will most likely be extended to the max, but, in the end, the prettiest girl at the prom will claim the crown—but not before the Eastern finalist has made her feel even more uncertain in her heels.