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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

Summing Up SuperSonics' Edge in Pacific: Vin Excels

March 18, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

I'm not sure yet whether to believe the stories that Nick Van Exel is more mature this season. One thing for sure, though, he is smarter.

Given numerous opportunities to repeat his bet of last season that the Lakers would overtake Seattle for the Pacific Division championship, he has declined.

That has been the best among his good moves this season, as we all were reminded in the SuperSonics' 101-89 victory Monday night in Seattle over the Lakers.

Wait until Friday night, when the teams meet again in the Great Western Forum?

No. Wait until next season.

Although 18 games remain, the Lakers have practically conceded the SuperSonics their third consecutive division title and fourth in the last five seasons.

The Lakers no doubt will have their hope renewed when the playoffs begin, but they know their chances aren't good if they have to play Seattle.

The SuperSonics, who would have the home-court advantage, have won all three games against the Lakers this season and 14 of the last 18 against them in Seattle.

This must be frustrating for the Jerrys, Buss and West.

After unloading a Brink's truck for Shaquille O'Neal, making a big trade for Kobe Bryant and a slightly lesser one for Robert Horry, aggressively recruiting Rick Fox as a free agent and giving enough money to Elden Campbell for a lifetime supply of Prozac, the Lakers have gained no ground on Seattle.

The SuperSonics guaranteed that with one move during the off-season, trading to bring Vin Baker and peace to their locker room.

Conventional wisdom was that Seattle didn't get enough, but Del Harris said at the time that the move would make them more difficult to beat. Unfortunately for him and his job security, he was right.

Point guard Gary Payton's attitude, instead of Shawn Kemp's, has become the prevalent one in Seattle. After Payton scored 27 points Monday night, 12 in the fourth quarter, the Lakers could only hope that Van Exel can contain him in the future. That will be possible only if he suddenly begins feeling no pain in either knee.

Van Exel wouldn't bet on that, either.

*

Any chance UCLA would have won Sunday if Maurice Taylor hadn't left Michigan after last season? . . .

Or if Kevin Garnett had put the NBA on hold and signed with Michigan, his No. 1 college choice? . . .

Kansas coaches assume junior Paul Pierce, from Inglewood Morningside, will turn pro and are recruiting accordingly. . . .

The NCAA gave Alabama home-court advantage in the NCAA women's tournament because of the promise of a large crowd, but attendance for the Crimson Tide's game against UCLA on Sunday was only 3,250. . . .

Alabama Coach Rick Moody's comment that he will carry his belief to the grave that the Crimson Tide deserved to win the game was dumb. . . .

Almost as dumb as the inbounds play he drew at the end of the game. . . .

It called for Brittney Ezell to run along the baseline, which was illegal at that point in the game. . . .

Fortunately for Moody, the officials overlooked it. . . .

You've got to admit, though, that was a pretty shot by Alabama's Latoya Caudle, even if it shouldn't have counted. . . .

The Pacific 10 women's gymnastics meet is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. . . .

Six of seven teams entered are ranked among the nation's top 25. . . .

Peggy Fleming's last performance before undergoing breast surgery last month, with co-star Robin Cousins in "Skaters Tribute to Hollywood," will be televised Sunday night on ESPN2 and March 28 by ESPN. . . .

The L.A. Sports Council holds its annual luncheon for the Galaxy at noon today at the L.A. Marriott Downtown Hotel. . . .

Juergen Klinsmann won't be there, but the German striker reportedly is seeking a

deal to join the Galaxy after the World

Cup. . . .

He is married to a woman from San Diego and has property in Orange County. . . .

Michael Nunn is in Berlin for Saturday's World Boxing Council light-heavyweight title fight against Germany's Graciano Rocchigiani. . . .

Because the fight is sponsored by a German brewery, it won't be televised in the United States. . . .

Publicist Bill Caplan says U.S. networks have too much respect for the dollars spent on their boxing telecasts by Budweiser. . . .

Oscar De La Hoya's fight June 13 against France's Patrick Charpentier has been set for El Paso. . . .

The Los Angeles marathons started Tuesday for Jerry Dunn. . . .

He's running the 26.2-mile course alone for 12 consecutive days before joining 20,000 other runners for the official L.A. Marathon on March 29. . . .

Team USA will meet Team Europe on Sunday in the four-race International Jockey Challenge at Santa Anita. . . .

The Rider Cup?

*

While wondering if there has been a cuter family than the Drews since the Von Trapps, I was thinking: So much for Jerry Tarkanian's Father Flanagan act on "60 Minutes," I had hoped Kentucky would finally have to recognize another Baron in college basketball, if Drew Barrymore married Bryce Drew, she'd be bored to tears in Valparaiso.

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