Out West in NBA, it's seventh heaven

Trip to Finals at stake for Lakers, Blazers

June 04, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES - Derek Fisher was among the first of the Los Angeles Lakers to emerge from yesterday's film session and walk onto the court at the Staples Center, where he and his teammates will play the Portland Trail Blazers tonight in Game 7 of the NBA's Western Conference finals.

What went among the beleaguered Lakers behind closed doors? Did Lakers coach Phil Jackson give up his Zen approach for someone more along the lines of, say, Bob Knight? Did Shaquille O'Neal threaten bodily harm - or at least what he did to Portland's Scottie Pippen in Friday's 103-93defeat - to any guard that didn't get him the ball?

Not quite.`There was no cutting off at the head or anything like that," said Fisher, the Lakers' backup point guard.

Their heads are not the only parts of this team's anatomy that might be checked should the Lakers become only the seventh team in NBA history - and the first in franchise history - to blow a playoff series after leading three games to one.

Their hearts also will be examined, because for the past two games it has been difficult to find a pulse.

How else do you explain the team with both the best overall regular-season record and the best home-court record losing Game 5 at home, 103-91, then barely offering any challenge to the Blazers in Game 6 at the Rose Garden, where the Lakers had swept Portland last weekend?

"We have a sense of urgency," said O'Neal, coming off his worst performance of the playoffs, a 7-for-17shooting night that resulted in 17 points, more than a dozen below his league-leading postseason average. "But if we come out and play smart, we'll be all right. We just have to take higher percentage shots."

The swagger with which the Lakers have carried themselves for most of this season was missing yesterday. While they will not finger-point and second-guess in public, you have to believe O'Neal is not happy when he has to get many of his shots off offensive rebounds. He often got the ball too late to go one-on-one on Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis, a 7-foot-2, 292-pound pylon.

"Nobody can stop me one-on-one," said O'Neal, getting testy when a reporter from Portland mentioned the job done by Sabonis in Game 6. "Don't ask me about this one-on-one matchup."

If anything, the Lakers have played too much one-on-one, in particular Kobe Bryant. While the 21-year-old guard had a career playoff-high 33points Friday night, most were moot. Though he didn't show any ill effects from the left ankle he sprained in Game 4 on the offensive end, he had trouble staying with Damon Stoudamire.

Stoudamire, who had led the Blazers in scoring against the Lakers during the regular season but had not been much of a factor in this series, set the tone in Game 6. He continually blew past Bryant and went to the basket, scoring 12 of his 14 points to help Portland take a 49-39halftime lead.

"Speed and quickness is one thing, a sense of urgency is another," Jackson said. "We don't have the athletic talent to run up and down with Portland. We want to play under control and with poise. We want them to play out of control, and they haven't done that the past two games."

The Blazers have seemingly figured out how to beat the Lakers, but O'Neal and his teammates insist they have only beaten themselves by taking too many three-pointers instead of going to the league's most dominant inside player. In doing so, the Blazers have also figured out themselves.

"We know that if we play 48 minutes and we play aggressive, we have a great shot at winning," said shooting guard Steve Smith, who led the Blazers with 26points in Game 6.

Said Scottie Pippen: "If we come out and play hard, we can be a dominant team."

There are players and coaches on both teams who have been part of the experience surrounding the seventh game. Jackson did as a player in New York, as well as during his run of six championships in nine years with the Chicago Bulls. Mike Dunleavy did as a player in Philadelphia and Houston, but never as a coach.

"It's going to be about defense and rebounding," said Dunleavy, who, after coaching the Lakers to their previous NBA Finals in 1991, is looking to lead the Blazers to their first since 1992. "I don't think it will ever change."

The pressure is clearly on the Lakers, who hired Jackson out of a one-year retirement and gave him a five-year, $30 million contract to lead the team to its first championship since 1988. The pressure that was on the Blazers because of their league-high, $74 million payroll subsided during the second half of the regular season and in the first four games of this series.

"We haven't been under any pressure," said Pippen, who will have to be more active offensively tonight than he was in Game 6, when he took just one shot in the first half and hit only one of six field goals for the game. "The pressure is when you're up 3-1."

The pressure seemed to be getting to the Lakers in Game 6, as reserve forward Rick Fox exchanged expletives with Dunleavy in the waning moments and Pippen suggested afterward that the Lakers, at Jackson's behest, were trying to distract them with some extracurricular elbows and message-sending forearms.

Lucky this is the NBA playoffs rather than some medieval competition.

If the Lakers lose the series, Fisher's decapitating words will have had some truth to them.

Blazing a comeback trail

Portland is trying to become the third NBA team to win a best-of-seven playoff series on the road after being down 3-1. Teams that have done it:

Team Opponent Yr. Series

Boston Philadelphia '68 Eastern Division final-x

Houston Phoenix '95 Western Conf. semifinal-x

x-won NBA championship

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.