ON THE CONTRARY, LAKERS ARE JUST FINE.
PHILADELPHIA - Maybe I've been hanging around Lakers coach Phil Jackson too long. That would explain my serenity in the midst of the monumental upset that apparently is brewing right under my nose.
It could be I've got smoke from the burning incense in my eyes, but when I look at the first two games of the NBA Finals I see a Lakers team that is quite capable of beating the Philadelphia 76ers here today in Game 3. If that happens I don't need to squint to picture the Lakers grinding out two more victories at First Union Center to close out the best-of-seven series in a tidy five games.
From my view, the Lakers have a lot to feel good about after nearly winning Game 1 despite getting a sterling performance from only one of its starters, Shaquille O'Neal, and gutting out a nine-point win in Game 2 despite scant production from their starting forwards.
Alas, evidently I am marooned on the Isle of Perspective. Indeed, don't be surprised if my next column comes to you in a bottle.
Everywhere I turn, pundits are sending up flares on the Lakers' behalf. SOS dispatches are all the vogue.
One out-of-town column from the Lakers' 98-89 victory on Friday pointed out that Philadelphia ``lost by just nine points.'' My guess is the same writer would have noted that Tulane relinquished only an eight-run lead in its 13-11 loss Friday to Stanford in the College World Series.
Then there was the Philadelphia cheerleader, er, writer who began his Friday game story by suggesting if the defending champion Lakers ``aren't careful, they may not get another chance to revel in victory in front of their home crowd.''
Yeah, the Sixers could win the next three games to close out the series but keep this in mind: The Lakers haven't suffered three losses in a row during Jackson's two-year tenure as head coach.
In that same span, the Lakers have won four consecutive games plenty of times. Remember the Alamodome? Remember Arco Arena?
I guess that makes me Pollyanna to think the Lakers can pull it off one more time and make those tickets to Game 6 at Staples Center as worthless as objectivity apparently is among some beat reporters here.
The journalists who would have you believe that the Lakers' players seen pumping both palms heavenward in these first two games merely were trying to keep the sky from falling ought to brush up on their Lakers history.
In the Western Conference finals last year, the Lakers relinquished their home-court advantage to the Portland Trail Blazers via a 29-point loss in Game 2 at Staples Center. They proceeded to Portland and won the next two games at the Rose Garden, typically a thorny place for visiting teams.
I read with the same smug amusement that Jackson might as well copyright the various dispatches spelling disaster for the Lakers just because they allowed a gritty, gutty Philadelphia team one last gasp Friday after building their lead to 13 points with 7 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
That the Lakers held on to win by nine shows they aren't exactly bankrupt in the grits-and-guts department.
It can leave you breathless, watching how quickly the tide of public opinion can change. The Lakers' margin of victory was six points or less in three of their four victories over Sacramento in the second round and nobody was suggesting that the Lakers needed life preservers then.
Of course, that was back when they were riding a six-week crest of consecutive victories which was carrying them ever closer to history's shores. The 76ers ended the Lakers' bid for a 15-0 postseason, and no sooner had history left Staples Center than hysteria swooped in to take its place.
Otherwise sensible people are overreacting at the first sign of a challenge to the defending NBA champions. Well, I have seen the culprit and it is us.
The higher the Lakers soared against San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, the higher the media raised the bar of expectations, only to yank the padded cushion from under them when the inevitable fall came, in Game 1 of the Finals.
The Lakers are the real professionals. They're staying in the moment, taking one game at a time and leaving it to the Fourth Estate to build the Great Wall of Hysteria.
Good god, enough bricks, already, and I'm not talking about O'Neal's free throws.
How much time left do Kobe Bryant (8) and Allen Iverson have to talk about who wears the shorts in this series?
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 10, 2001|
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