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Suddenly, Series Is No Longer a Fair Fight

April 27, 2001|BILL PLASCHKE

Sometimes wins are more than just wins.

Sometimes wins are big rubber pacifiers.

On Thursday, the Lakers stuck one in the faces of their former rivals from the great whining north.

The Portland Trail Blazers can now shut up. Go home. Grow up.

This first-round series is over, if not in numbers, then certainly in spirit, of which the Blazers have, I don't know, none?

The Lakers won Game 2, 106-88, in an evening that reminded one of watching two adolescent schoolyard enemies a year after their most prodigious battles.

When one of the kids has suddenly matured . . . but the other one hasn't.

It was a fight both unfair and ugly and in the end, after much Laker creativity and Blazer chaos, you wanted to step in and say something.

You two stop playing together, now!

That will officially happen Sunday in Game 3 at Portland, where a home court cannot disguise a team that plays as if it belongs on the streets.

The way the Blazers behaved here Thursday, a simple sweep is too good for them. When the Lakers win Sunday, somebody should hit the losers with a leaf blower.

"We just have to protect ourselves," said Laker center Shaquille O'Neal.

At this point, that is what this series has become.

One team punching and kicking and crying. The other team trying to unwrap them from their lower leg and run to another playground.

Rasheed Wallace? A disgrace. He scored 17 points but do you remember any of them? Everyone, including his teammates, was too busy watching him blow up enough to get thrown out of another game, and you wonder how long before he is thrown out of a league.

Dale Davis? A knucklehead. Perhaps irked at being whipped for a second consecutive year by the Lakers--last season while as an Indiana Pacer--he threw Robert Horry into a row of photographers and was also thrown out.

Scottie Pippen? Only slightly more active these days than Michael Jordan. Pippen started the game hot--nine first-quarter points--but wore down like always and finished with a cheap shove to Kobe Bryant's sore left ribs.

Earlier this week, Pippen accused Bryant of faking that rib injury. Bryant might now accuse Pippen of faking those championship rings.

Then there was Portland boss Mike Dunleavy, arguably the most unfortunate man in an unfortunate situation.

He's a good guy and decent coach whose lasting memory of this game probably occurred during one of several on-court tiffs. When Dunleavy tried to hold back Wallace, his star swatted him away like a bothersome insect.

Unfortunately, Portland management will probably soon do the same.

Earlier this week, Dunleavy complained that the referees were not calling enough offensive fouls or three-second violations on O'Neal.

The last we looked Thursday, in the fourth quarter, Dunleavy was watching from the bench while O'Neal was shooting a free throw after a technical foul.

That's right, a technical foul.

O'Neal asked Phil Jackson if he could try it.

Jackson, applying the needle to Portland as only Jackson can apply it, agreed.

And Shaq actually made it.

"Just working on my shot a little more," said O'Neal, who overall came back to earth by making just four of nine free throws overall.

Of course, he did play 43 consecutive minutes. And besides 32 points, he also had five assists. And was only called for one offensive foul.

So Mr. Dunleavy, you were saying . . . ?

Let's all say goodbye, one last time, to a Blazer team that deserves to be leveled like a diseased tree.

And say hello to a Laker team that, somewhat surprisingly, appears all grown up.

"Tonight was an example of how close-knit this team has become," O'Neal said. "The last month or so, we've really gotten close."

Face it. Before Thursday, some of us still weren't buying it. Some of us still wondered if last year's Lakers would show up.

You know, the team that was 4-6 in clinching playoffs game. The team that seemed to only excel when pushed.

This game last year would have given the Lakers trouble. You know it and I know it and they know it.

So far, though, last year's team has turned them into this year's team.

"Getting our butts kicked in Game 2 against the Blazers last year, that's what got us going tonight," said Rick Fox, a perfect example with four first-period turnovers Thursday before finishing with six assists, five turnovers and 19 points.

'We have a definite frame of reference from last year, and talked about it," Fox said. "Enough guy's eyes are open for us to understand it."

The understanding is not that things won't go bad, but that things don't have to stay bad.

"What we learned in that seventh-game comeback against Portland last year, we're still doing now," Derek Fisher said. "It's like that feeling is still with us."

So after the Blazers ran to a nine-point lead late in the first period, the Lakers began a run that included baskets from four different players to end the period.

Bryant hit a jumper at the start of the second period that gave the Lakers five consecutive baskets by five different players.

In the meantime, led by Fox and Horry and, yes, Tyronn Lue, the Lakers kept the Blazers from even hitting the rim on four of five possessions.

The 17-6 run was capped midway through the period when hustling Fisher followed O'Neal upcourt on a fastbreak, grabbed the ball when O'Neal bobbled it, then hit a short jumper.

It gave the Lakers a lead they never lost. More than that, it gave them a symbol of everything that has gone right for two wins, soon to be three.

Warned Fox of the Blazers on Sunday: "They'll be scared, embarrassed, playing as hard as they can."

Which means they might start four scuffles instead of three. Which means the Lakers might win by only 10 instead of 18.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:

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