Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Lakers ready to rumble

Los Angeles seeks sweep for spot in record books

June 6, 2001

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— Kobe Bryant went to a movie the other day, opting to see "Pearl Harbor" rather than watch Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Shaquille O'Neal, who promised to have his game face on by early in the week, pitched his best-selling book at a news conference Tuesday, and responded to a reporter's ringing cell phone by saying, "Tell them to call back later," drawing laughter from the assembled media.

And a few of the Los Angeles Lakers have talked openly about securing a spot in the record books by winning four straight over the Philadelphia 76ers to complete an unprecedented sweep of the playoffs.

"We've talked about it, our guys recognize the significance," Lakers forward Rick Fox said after his team's final practice before the NBA Finals begin tonight at Staples Center. "We'd be up there with all the other great teams."

Are these guys confident, or what?

More importantly, are they focused after having last played on May 27?

The answers appear to be yes, and yes.

"We're confident, but we know what kind of a team Philly is, with an intense defense and a high scorer," Lakers forward Horace Grant said.

"They are very much prepared," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of his players.

"Being here is not a surprise, but how we have done it is a surprise. Their aptitude, attitude and appetite for this series and for playoff basketball is quite apparent."

After an up-and-down season lowlighted by the simmering feud of O'Neal and Bryant going public in January and injuries to both after that, the Lakers are healthy and on an incredible roll.

First came eight straight wins to finish the season, and now 11 to begin the playoffs an accomplishment matched only by the 1989 Lakers, who were swept by Detroit's Bad Boys in the NBA Finals after starters Byron Scott and Magic Johnson sustained hamstring injuries.

"Sometimes, you have to have your trials and tribulations before you see the light at the end of the tunnel," Lakers reserve Robert Horry said. "We're at the end of the tunnel.

"For the most part, we're just taking it one game at a time."

That's been the Lakers' mantra for weeks, and it's worked to the point where the odds on the finals are unreal.

The Lakers are listed as 1112-point favorites in Game 1, and with one oddsmaker, a bettor picking them has to lay $2,400 to win $100 while a 76ers supporter wins $1,800 by laying $100. These are rather remarkable numbers considering the participants finished the season with identical 56-26 records and split their two games.

But while the Lakers have breezed to 11 wins in the playoffs by an average of 15.4 points, the 76ers have gone 11-7, and reached the finals for the first time since 1983 by winning their last two series in seven games.

Tyrone Hill said the 76ers didn't feel like underdogs, that it was a media thing.

However, the starting forward also said if the 76ers contained O'Neal to some degree, "then we're going to have a chance."

While O'Neal is averaging 29.3 points in the postseason, Bryant is averaging 31.6, and Derek Fisher, who is averaging 15.1, was 15-of-20 from 3-point range while the Lakers were manhandling San Antonio.

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