SACRAMENTO, CALIF. The Los Angeles Lakers' mastery of every playoff opponent they've faced in recent years even impresses their coach, who has seen a few championship teams in his time.
"We've showed a lot of maturity and control," Phil Jackson said Sunday. "We've been able to control tempo against teams. We've been able to control our droughts. We've executed very well when it mattered the most. I don't have a lot to complain about."
The Lakers took early control of yet another playoff series Saturday, beating the Sacramento Kings 106-99 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Game 2 is tonight at Arco Arena, where the Kings again will try to dent the "armor of champions," to use Sacramento coach Rick Adelman's erudite phrase, that covers Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the postseason, where they've won 24 of their last 26.
The Kings weren't successful at the task in the opener but then again, nobody has done it for nearly two years.
"We've talked a lot to our team about playing our game and not getting caught up in the excitement of being in the conference finals," Adelman said. "We let it get to us in the first quarter (of Game 1). We came back hard in three quarters, but against the Lakers, you're still going to have a hard time winning. They're way too good for you to slip up."
O'Neal said the Lakers played one of their most complete games of the season in Game 1, when they raced to a big first-quarter lead and never let it slip below five points, even as Bobby Jackson led a fourth-quarter rally while Los Angeles made nine late turnovers.
"I think there was a quarter or two against Portland or San Antonio where we played extremely well, but (Game 1) was the longest time we've put it all together," said Bryant, who scored 10 of his 30 points in the fourth
Jackson wasn't surprised the Lakers responded to the challenge of the Kings' hostile arena with their best quarter of the postseason. Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry all hit key first-quarter baskets to back O'Neal and Bryant and with such an array of options, the Lakers were unstoppable.
"It's one thing when Shaq and Kobe are beating you, but when Robert Horry starts making shots, sometimes you've just got to forget it," Sacramento's Scot Pollard said. "If Horry and Fox and those guys played every night the way they did in the first half, they'd lose about two times a year."
The Kings said they can't allow the Lakers to knock them out of their offensive rhythm with transition defense. The Jazz did the same thing in the first round going hard to the boards, denying an easy outlet pass to Mike Bibby or Doug Christie, and getting everyone back on defense quickly. Adelman thought he had corrected the problems, but the Kings couldn't run effectively in Game 1.