Bryant, L.A. feel healthy

Pacers expect All-Star to come back tonight

June 14, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Sam Perkins summed up the Indiana Pacers' skepticism surrounding Kobe Bryant's injured left ankle and whether he will play in tonight's Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"We learned about that in the Knicks series when [New York guard Latrell] Sprewell broke his foot, then came out there dunking," Perkins said. "I mean, c'mon."

Perkins is about as confident as Bryant that the Lakers' All-Star shooting guard will play tonight.

Before participating in the Lakers practice yesterday, Bryant said the ankle is "feeling a lot better." Asked what could cause him to miss tonight's game, Bryant responded by questioning whether there were any snipers present. "I don't think so," he said.

The news could not have come at a better time for the Lakers, who now find themselves in a heated series, with their lead cut to 2-1 after the Pacers won Game 3, 100-91.

Los Angeles had trouble overcoming Bryant's loss in Game 3 on Sunday as well as an energetic Conseco Fieldhouse crowd. Bryant sprained the ankle in the first half of Game 2.

Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal got his points (33), but logical second option Glen Rice found himself on the bench for all but two minutes of the fourth quarter and finished the game with seven points.

With or without Bryant tonight, the Lakers will need either a better performance from Rice, who was displeased after Sunday's game about his lack of minutes and not getting more shots, or one of their role players, such as Robert Horry.

"I don't think I've created a distraction," Rice said. "I don't look at it as being any controversy. I'm trying to echo that, `Hey, I want to help my team win.' If other people can't see that, then that is their problem.

"I just said that in the fourth quarter, I want to be out on the floor to help my team win. I'm all about trying to give my team an advantage. I can't give my team an advantage from the bench. If people are looking at that as being controversial, then they don't know anything about trying to win."

Who knows whether his complaining will alter coach Phil Jackson's mind-set, but the majority of Lakers actually praised Rice for wanting to play when the game is on the line.

Rice, in his 10th season out of Michigan, averaged 15.9 points during the regular season.

"Glen and I have had a good relationship all year," Jackson said. "We maintained it, and I think Glen and I are clear with what our program is. I play who I want to play, when I want to play them and how they play and what I think is best for the team. And that's it."

The who was Rick Fox instead of Rice in the second half. The why was partly because Fox is a better defender than Rice, who admits that is not one of his strong suits.

With the Lakers trailing by 18 points late in the third quarter, Jackson went to defense, substituting Fox for Rice. Just thereafter, Los Angeles would start a rally that cut the Pacers' lead to three in the final minutes before falling.

Although Rice is a three-point threat, he is not at his best penetrating to the basket, and he has had trouble guarding Pacers small forward Jalen Rose, who is averaging 21 points during the Finals.

The normally outspoken Rose was pretty quiet when the subject of Rice's troubles came up, preferring to "let a sleeping dog lie."

The worst thing for him would be for Rice to come out and hit several straight shots, something Pacers coach Larry Bird said could easily happen.

"He can get on a roll and hit three or four three-pointers in three or four possessions," Bird said. "You know, I'm still worried that Glen's going to get hot and come through and make some big shots for them. He's that type of player."

Rice needs someone other than O'Neal to set things up, though. Bryant's penetration combined with the double-teaming of O'Neal provided Rice with many of his successful games earlier this year.

But struggling on a hurting ankle, Bryant may not have his normal explosiveness. Plus, he is going to have to contend with Pacers guard Reggie Miller, who rediscovered his shooting touch last game, going for 33 points.

"As much moving as he likes to do and as much off the dribble, I'm sure it's going to take a lot of energy out of that ankle," Miller said. "But, on the other hand, I remember having ankle injuries throughout the playoffs and still being able to complete plays. I'm sure he won't be 100 percent, but he's had five, six, maybe even seven days now to rest the ankle. And he won't be 100 percent, but 80 percent of Kobe is still pretty good."

NBA Finals

Indiana vs. L.A. Lakers

(Best-of-seven series; L.A. Lakers lead 2-1)

Game 1: L.A., 104-87

Game 2: L.A., 111-104

Game 3: Indiana, 100-91

Tonight: at Indiana, 9 p.m.

Friday: at Indiana, 9 p.m.

Monday: at L.A., 9 p.m.*

June 21: at L.A., 9 p.m.*

TV: Chs. 11, 4

*-If necessary

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