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BEST ACTOR: DIVAC IN `FLOP WARS II'.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

EL SEGUNDO - Since their loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday night, the Lakers have been complaining about Vlade Divac's shameless flair for flopping and the referees' shameful flair for falling for it. Shaquille O'Neal said there's only one way to beat the champions, ``and it starts with a 'C' and it ends with a 'T.' '' Sportswriters needed mere hours to guess the word is either ``cheat'' or ``Cabernet.'' Phil Jackson praised the challengers' veteran center as one of the most ``intelligent'' players in the game. Nudge, nudge.

For Kings fans, there are three possible responses to the Lakers' charges:

1. Whiners!

2. Oh, yeah? Prove it!

3. Tell us something we don't know.

You can be pretty sure that in Sacramento, they're pretending to digest the Lakers' sour grapes with difficulty that's normally reserved for room-service bacon cheeseburgers.

Vlade? Flopping? Just because he worked the refs for three damaging offensive foul calls against O'Neal? Just because after the first two, Steven Spielberg climbed down from the Arco Arena stands to offer Divac a starring role in his next tragedy?

Give us a break. In Sacramento, they know perfectly well that Vlade Divac is the greatest ref-swindler in modern professional basketball. They know because the hometown newspaper told them so. They know because Vlade admitted it.

A couple of years ago, on the day of the 72nd Academy Awards presentation, The Sacramento Bee went looking for the NBA's best actors, the outstanding practitioners of the art of faking a foul. Writer Mike Triplett awarded nominations to John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Dennis Rodman - and Divac.

And the winner was - Divac.

``The agile center is so widely recognized for his artful and convincing displays of being victimized in the paint, he even nominated himself,'' Triplett wrote. `` `Best actor? Hmmm ... Vlade?' he said sheepishly when posed with the question. `Well, I spent seven, eight years down in Los Angeles.' ''

Yes, Divac played his first seven NBA seasons for the Lakers, back in the team's transition period between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal. But don't blame Divac on Hollywood. Talent like his, you either have or you don't.

``Divac was, to say the least, a popular choice throughout the Kings' locker room,'' The Bee reported. ``As a matter of fact, every teammate and coach asked for their Best Actor immediately pointed to the big man whose wife just happens to be an actress.''

Tyrone Corbin, then a Kings teammate, was quoted on Divac's behalf.

`` `Vlade's flopping on the court is pretty good. He knows it, and he uses it,' '' Corbin said of Divac's ability to stand in the way of a Shaquille O'Neal dunk, regardless of establishing proper position.

Divac's nondenial was quoted.

``I probably do it once every six games,'' Divac said. ``It's just timing, like any other move you have to work on. A lot of times it comes when the official has been missing calls, and you know that they know they're wrong (and they owe you one).''

The Bee summed up: ``Frankly, a lot of guys can do the flop. But only Divac has turned the 'What, me?' look into a heartfelt work of art.''

It appears that before that article hit newsprint, Divac regretted having taken credit for his virtuosity.

The Bee wrote: `` `No, I don't like that,' he said of winning the award. 'It's a bad rap. The officials will kill me.' ''

Apparently, Divac need not have worried.

I mean, we know Tom Hanks is acting, too, but we still fall for it, don't we?

Monday night, when the Kings beat the Lakers 96-90 to level the Western Conference finals series at 1-1, Divac's craft was crucial. O'Neal scored 35 points, but he'd had 23 before being whistled for his third foul, a charge dramatized by Divac, midway through the second quarter, leading to an outburst by Jackson that drew a technical foul.

``We had a player on the way to a 50-point game, which he's very capable of getting,'' Jackson said Tuesday after giving his players a day off from practice. ``... He's completely taken out of his game in the process of making foul calls.

``Vlade finds a way to do his antics at the right time to create the right situation.''

Jackson might have risked being labeled a whiner for complaining publicly about the refereeing, which, rightly or wrongly, gave the Kings 23 free throws in the first half and the Lakers only five.

But, of course, the coach was hoping the officials for Friday's Game 3 at Staples Center will read what he had to say on the subject and would be on the lookout for Divac's fakery.

Just in case the officials haven't read what Divac had to say on the subject.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) According to a report, Sacramento's Vlade Divac has ``turned the `What, me?' look into a heartfelt work of art.''

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 22, 2002
Words:820
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