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LAKERS REPORT

End Result Is What Matters

April 18, 2001|TIM BROWN

One of the best late-season teams Phil Jackson ever coached, the 1994-95 Chicago Bulls that didn't have Michael Jordan until the last five weeks of the regular season, lost in the second round of the playoffs.

The following season's team, the one that won 72 games, lost twice in the regular season's final week and won 15 of 18 playoffs games en route to the NBA championship.

So the Lakers took their seven-game winning streak into Tuesday night's game against the Denver Nuggets with more momentum than they had a week ago, less than they had a year ago, and maybe none of it matters at all.

Eight games ago, the Lakers had lost, 79-78, to the New York Knicks. It was more of the same uneven effort that had put the Lakers in a bad spot, well out of the Pacific Division lead.

Then came the victories and, maybe, the momentum.

"We just needed a confidence factor about playing well," Jackson said. "We just needed to build chemistry that's provided by winning."

It came, finally, with Shaquille O'Neal's free throws, with defense, with Derek Fisher's health, other more subtle reasons.

"Some of it has to do with execution," Jackson said. "Some of it has to do with realizing the seriousness of our situation. When we went from second to sixth in a short period of time, when we lost [five of eight] games, it put us in jeopardy of not having home-court [advantage]. I think players took advantage of the seriousness of the situation and got to work. Well, not that they weren't working before, but they got very serious about what they were doing."

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Jackson would have preferred a scenario in which the Lakers played the Phoenix Suns in the first round and Sacramento got Portland, which might have eliminated a potential trouble spot for his team.

Not that there couldn't be an easier assignment.

"We'd prefer the Chicago Bulls," he said, grinning. "Unfortunately, they're not in our conference and won't be in the playoffs, so I think you have to say at this time you take who falls into your bracket and just live with it. We'll watch the Portland (vs. San Antonio) game with interest and we'll watch the Utah-Phoenix game (Wednesday) night if Portland prevails tonight."

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Horace Grant, suffering from tendinitis in his left knee, did not suit up. The club does not expect the injury, which had bothered him for several days, to linger into the playoffs. . . . J.R. Rider was excused from Tuesday night's game to tend to personal business. He joined his teammates at halftime.

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