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View From The Other Side

What papers in the Portland area are saying about the series:


Toto, I don't think we're in Portland anymore.

A few things look familiar--smooth Scottie Pippen, solid Steve Smith and Rasheed Wallace, the stare master.

But nothing else about Saturday's Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center resembled life as fans know it at the Rose Garden.

Especially the outcome: Lakers 109, Blazers 94.

But then, Los Angeles feels about as far from Portland as Portland feels from . . . oh, Lithuania. It's the Oz, real and imagined, of the NBA universe.

It's Shaq and Jack. It's center court and Hollywood all rolled into one. And Saturday's show started long before Mr. O'Neal found his free-throw rhythm and Mr. Nicholson adjusted his sunglasses for indoor glare.

Outside Staples Center, a sweaty sidewalk preacher in shorts and tube socks demanded praise as the Lakers' faithful bounced in to see the game. The glistening 20,000-seat, $330-million facility was built in the heart of the city last year and dubbed a "destination" in publicity material. So L.A. So Oz.

Yes, it's all so L.A./Oz--as if Central Casting asked all the young women to create the Carmen Miranda-sans-hat look in sarongs and thongs, and the young men to shoot for that Jimmy Buffett-meets-Armani feel. Laid-back but loaded.

No Oregon Gore-Tex. No piled-up fleece. No rugged hiking boots. And that Blazers' red and black? Nope. This is Oscar gold and royal purple territory.

Instead of sipping hot caffeine, the Lakers' crowd cooled off with frosty brews and fizzy water.

Game-goers maneuvered for stingy slivers of shade from anorexic palm tree trunks.

They swayed and shimmied to salsa and marimba tunes so dance-friendly the band should be invited to play at the prom.

THE prom. The one everyone in Los Angeles is speculating about this weekend following news that the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, 21, has asked an 18-year-old high school senior, Vanessa Laine, to be his seven-carat-diamond-toting bride.

But then, that kind of star-struck distraction is so commonplace--so L.A./Oz.

The crowd inside Staples Center looked almost as if the Academy, whom they would like to thank, drew up the invitation list: Nicholson, of course. Courtside, as always.

In the cheaper--but barely--seats: Denzel Washington, Dustin Hoffman, Will Smith, Sinbad.

As the cameras found the stars and flashed their fancy faces on the scoreboard, the crowd went nearly as wild as it did for the Lakers.

Had they rehearsed? Is it just part of this L.A. culture to harmonize when sing-songing, "Wallace! Wallace! Wallace!" as an opponent is ejected for staring--yes, this was Rasheed Wallace's Saturday sin--at a referee.

The theatrics of it all pleased this group, naturals one and all, for audience participation shows. They hooted and screamed and skipped their way right down that yellow brick road in this, their very own, Land of Oz.

And the Blazers? Their somber expressions said it all:

"There's no place like home."

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