Scouting report

May 20, 2000|By Don Markus

Western Conference finals

L.A. Lakers vs. Portland

Guards

Many believe that the key to Portland's success is point guard Damon Stoudamire, who led the Blazers in scoring (17.5 ppg) against the Lakers. He provides problems with his quickness for Ron Harper, and he shoots the ball well enough from deep to stretch the Lakers defensively on the perimeter. But the best head-to-head battle of the series could be between Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and Portland's Steve Smith. Both like to use their size to post up smaller guards, but this will be the series for Bryant to show that the Lakers are as much his team as they are Shaquille O'Neal's.

Edge: Even

Forwards

Glen Rice has had his shooting woes against the Trail Blazers, mostly because Scottie Pippen could be the best on-the-ball defender in the league. Conversely, Pippen hasn't exactly lit things up against the Lakers. But the motivation for Pippen will be clear: to show former coach Phil Jackson that he can lead the Blazers to the Finals. At power forward, A.C. Green is overmatched by nearly everybody these days, and Rasheed Wallace is no exception. The only way for the Lakers to stop Wallace is to get into his head.

Edge: Trail Blazers

Center

Here's where the Lakers have a huge - with the emphasis on huge - advantage. The league's Most Valuable Player, Shaquille O'Neal, has also been the best player in the postseason, and despite the fact that Arvydas Sabonis is one of the few big men in the NBA who can match Shaq inch-for-inch and nearly pound-for-pound, O'Neal has been dominant. The only Blazer to slow Shaq down has been backup center-power forward Brian Grant, who'll have to come up big for the Blazers to advance.

Edge: Lakers

Bench

Despite having solid backups at power forward and center (Grant), point guard (Greg Anthony), small forward (Detlef Shrempf) and shooting guard (Bonzi Wells), the Blazers have been outscored and narrowly outplayed by the Lakers off the bench this season. The Lakers have the experience of John Salley to give O'Neal a breather at center, the enthusiasm and long-range shooting of Derek Fisher to back up Harper at the point, the versatility of Brian Shaw to play both with and behind Bryant, and Robert Horry's scoring ability to play a majority of the minutes at power forward. They also have a new enforcer in Rick Fox.

Edge: Lakers

Coaching

Phil Jackson has six championship rings from his years with the Chicago Bulls, and is highly motivated to add a seventh without having to hug Michael Jordan. Jackson's arrogance is a good thing when things are going well for the Lakers, but he might have to dig a little in the trenches as he did as a player with the New York Knicks to out-coach Mike Dunleavy. The memory of 4-0 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs in last year's Western Conference finals will be strong motivation for Dunleavy, who might be looking for a new job if the Blazers go down quickly again.

Edge: Lakers

Intangibles

So much will ride on the first two games. For Portland to have any shot, it must gain a split in Los Angeles before going home to the Rose Garden for Game 3. There is more pressure on the Lakers as a team, given what they did during the regular season, but Pippen has more on his shoulders than even O'Neal or Bryant. They still have time left to win many championships, but this might be Pippen's last chance.

Edge: Trail Blazers

Prediction

Portland in six.

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