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PRO BASKETBALL DAILY REPORT : LAKERS

The Time Is Now to Catch Seattle

March 29, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER

The Lakers' pursuit of their first Pacific Division title since 1990 begins in earnest the next game, a Tuesday road contest against the Seattle SuperSonics that has snuck up in some ways because of the four-day break that precedes it and the attention given to the return of Robert Horry that may accompany it. But it is, without question, an outing with major implications.

And not only for Nick Van Exel's bank account. A Laker victory clinches the tiebreaker for them, if needed, while a victory for the SuperSonics, who defeated Minnesota on Friday night to boost their lead to two games, gives the defending champions a huge advantage for the stretch run.

Seattle's schedule has Milwaukee and Dallas in home games, at Sacramento, three days off, at Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, home against San Antonio, at Denver and home to the Clippers. No back-to-back games.

The Lakers get Utah twice and Portland and the Clippers once and have three more back-to-backs. In other words, they will need to catch the SuperSonics now or get some help.

*

If you're going to struggle, this is the way to do it: The Lakers have had trouble getting past the Grizzlies, Raptors and Warriors of late, but they've also won six of eight and eight of their last 11 and are 25 games above .500 for the first time. Not the first time this season, but the first time in nearly six years, since the end of 1990-91.

Of the three losses in the 11-game stretch, one was by one point to the Heat, another by two points to the Clippers.

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