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BILL PLASCHKE

On Guards: Round Two Will Be a Duel With Suns

Hearing from the hometown fans again might help the Lakers make some noise.

May 07, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

A.C. Green first heard it in the hallway; the screaming, the foot-stomping, the surge.

He said it sounded like Showtime.

"Standing outside our locker room before the game, in our little huddle, I could hear the stands rocking," he said, smiling. "It brought back some memories."

Shaquille O'Neal first heard it when he stepped onto the floor; the chants, the whistles.

He said it sounded like home.

"Like when you were a little kid and you played in front of your family, your friends, your people," he said.

Kobe Bryant first heard it with the first shots on the first night this town's velvet coffin finally came unglued.

He said it sounded like money.

"It was so loud, it was intimidating," he said. "In that environment, a three-point shot feels like a five-point shot."

You see, Los Angeles? The Lakers saw you.

On Friday night in the first-round series finale against the Sacramento Kings, they actually said they felt you.

They also weren't ashamed to admit that today, in the opener of the second-round series against the Phoenix Suns, they wouldn't mind hearing you again.

"Absolutely," Bryant said. "I cannot even tell you what a difference the fans made."

So is shaped one of the most important matchups in a series with several little odd ones.

There's Sun guards Penny Hardaway and Jason Kidd against Bryant and Ron Harper.

There's Sun strongman Rodney Rogers against all Laker forward and Clipper memories.

There's center Luc Longley against the Pacific Ocean, a battle he lost a couple of years ago when he injured himself while bodysurfing before a game here.

Louder than all the rest, though, will be the Laker fans against the Laker fans' reputation.

Will they show up today as they did Friday in what became a coming-out party for that quiet giant known as Staples Center?

Or will they get back on their cell phones?

Will they arrive early and surround the Suns the way the Lakers have been surrounded on the road all season?

Or will they not throw out the ceremonial first roar until halftime?

Will they truly become the sort of playoff factor that Trail Blazer fans are in Portland, and Pacer fans are in Indiana?

"The sort of thing that really makes you want to work harder," Glen Rice said.

Or were Friday night's seats filled with fans who, because of the unlikelihood that there would be a fifth game in the Sacramento series, were able to get tickets that the more sedate regulars long ago turned down?

"It was real different looking out there, real wild," Green said. "There was like, a lot of loud kids, a lot of things you haven't seen before."

In any other NBA town during the early rounds of the playoffs, the story of a cheer is not a story.

But in most other towns, the early rounds of the playoffs are celebrations.

Here, as in the regular season, they are little more than the cocktail party before the celebration.

"Los Angeles is so different from other cities, it is so used to basketball success, it lives for those championships, and anything before that . . . " Rick Fox said.

Some say Laker fans are stilted. I say, sophisticated.

Some say Laker fans are distracted. I say, discerning.

Whatever, they are certainly smart, because Friday they realized that if they don't stop the small talk and start the loud talk early, there might not be another round to celebrate.

Said O'Neal: "Because of the acoustics in that big building, I don't know if it can get any louder."

Said Derek Fisher: "We deal with the way it is here all year, we know fans don't win games for you. But still, to have that sort of noise makes a big difference."

The Lakers shared the best home record in the league with Indiana this year at 36-5, so statistically a loud home crowd matters little.

But, still swallowing hard and rubbing their ears after a thunderous two games at Arco Arena, the Lakers say don't believe everything you read.

Bryant said the atmosphere here in the league's glamour spot is unlike any in the league's hot spots.

"It's not even close," he said. "Some of those places we go to on the road, it's so loud it's ridiculous. Here, sometimes you can hear a pin drop."

Not Friday.

Not only could you not hear a pin drop, you also couldn't hear anybody cheering specifically for the celebrities.

You couldn't hear the buzz when those celebrities walked off the court.

The fans were so loud for so long, they became the celebrities.

"We knew we were home," said Phil Jackson, who chided the fans before the playoffs began. "We knew we were in a secure place."

A.C. Green first heard it in the hallway, then felt it when he stepped around the curtain and into the light of a town awakened.

"We walked outside and looked around and it was like, everybody was ready for battle," Green said.

There's a nice ring to that, huh? Everybody.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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