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LAKERS NOTEBOOK: THEY'LL BE JAZZED : LAKERS HAVE TITLE AND PRIDE AT STAKE TODAY.

Byline: Howard Beck Daily News Staff Writer

Because Shaquille O'Neal slapped Greg Ostertag, because Kobe Bryant waved off Karl Malone, because Greg Foster symbolically slit the Lakers' throats, the Utah Jazz's visit to the Forum today will not lack for intrigue nor intensity.

There is, of course, the small detail of a division title to be claimed. A victory over the Jazz, combined with a Seattle loss at Portland, and the Lakers would claim the Pacific Division title and No. 2 seed in the Western Conference - a possibility unimaginable just days ago.

But even before the division went up for grabs this weekend, today's rematch of the Jazz and Lakers figured to be a bloodletting.

The season began with O'Neal decking Ostertag at the Forum. By midseason, Malone was criticizing young Bryant for waving off Malone's pick in the All-Star Game. And then came Foster's throat-slitting gesture to enrage the Lakers as they were routed in Salt Lake City three weeks ago.

The Lakers vowed not to forget. ``When he goes up (to the hoop), he better go up strong,'' Shaquille O'Neal said afterward, ``because a couple guys might try to take his head off. It's OK to have emotion, but what goes around, comes around.''

On Saturday, the Lakers tried to sound a calmer tone, but of Foster's antics O'Neal admitted, ``I'm sure guys are gonna remember that.''

The Jazz has already secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, leaving Utah little to play for today, aside from tying the season series. But the Lakers don't expect an easy afternoon.

``If anybody thinks they will take the day off, they don't understand Utah's history,'' coach Del Harris said. ``They're not about taking days off.''

Said Derek Fisher: ``It's just not in their blood to just walk in here and get whipped, especially to us. It will be war.''

Back to camp: Following today's game, the Lakers will depart for Palm Desert for a three-day minicamp to prepare for the playoffs.

Regardless of who the Lakers draw for a first-round opponent, they will play their first two games Friday and next Sunday at the Forum. The rest of the five-game schedule has not been set.

With some playoff series opening Thursday, the Lakers' Friday start means an extra day of preparation time. ``I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference,'' Harris said. ``If we had started Thursday, that would have been fine, too.''

Numbers: Almost lost in the excitement Friday were two major milestones - the Lakers' 60th win and Harris' 1,000th game as an NBA coach.

``I'm proud of it,'' Harris said of the longevity mark. ``I've wanted to be a basketball coach, and to be able to do it at the highest level for a long period of time under all the intense pressure and scrutiny you have to go through is an accomplishment.

``It makes me appreciate even more some of the time and effort that guys like (Bill) Fitch and (Lenny) Wilkens and (Don) Nelson and (Dick) Motta have put in, because every game is very important, every game is very difficult. We put ourselves out there in the open for everybody 1,000 times.''

Harris' 12-year record improved to 549-451 with Friday's win, which also pushed the Lakers to the 60-victory mark for the first time in eight years.

``It's a milestone that's significant,'' he said. ``It's not easy to do.''

But as Eddie Jones noted, ``If we don't win anything after that, 60 doesn't mean anything.''

Scorefest: Shaquille O'Neal, averaging 28.2 points a game, will finish the season today with the highest scoring average of any Laker since 1969-70, when Jerry West averaged 31.2.

LAKERS vs. UTAH

Tipoff: 12:30 p.m., the Forum.

TV/Radio: Channel 4; KLAC-AM (570).

Tickets: Sold out.

Lakers (60-21) update: A year ago, the Lakers handed the Pacific Division title to Seattle by losing to Portland on the final day of the season. Now they're counting on the Trail Blazers doing the same to the Sonics. If the Lakers win and the Sonics lose at Portland, the Lakers win the division and the No. 2 seed, drawing Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. A Lakers loss or Seattle win drops the Lakers to No. 3, giving them Portland in the playoffs.

Jazz (62-19) update: Utah has already won the top seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The upside for L.A.: Regardless of the Lakers' seeding, they will not be in Utah's bracket and thus won't have to face the Jazz until the conference finals.

--- Howard Beck

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BOX: LAKERS vs. UTAH (see text)
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 19, 1998
Words:780
Previous Article:OLYMPIAN PREACHES CONFIDENCE.
Next Article:THE RUN FOR THE RING.


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