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Active or Not, It's Just Not Happening for Pippen

April 27, 2001|J.A. ADANDE

Scottie Pippen got what he wanted. For a while.

He got his touches, he got his shots in the early going of Thursday's resumption of the first-round playoff series against the Lakers. But The longer this game lasted, the more the Portland Trail Blazers got pounded, dropping Game 2 and any realistic hope of winning this series, 106-88.

Not quite lost amid the numerous Portland complaints about the officiating in this series during the week was Pippen's complaint about his role in the Trail Blazers' offense. He wanted more of an active role.

He got it.

Pippen drove to the basket. He attacked Rick Fox and Kobe Bryant. He took nine shots in the first half and made six of them.

The Trail Blazers were at their best in last year's series when Pippen was aggressive. And for a moment they looked ready to put the bite back into this series as well. They led, 29-25, after the first quarter, when Pippen scored nine of his points.

But Portland's offense is like a volleyball team; everyone takes turns serving. The Trail Blazers went away from Pippen, who scored only six of his 21 points after halftime. Then the Lakers ran away from the Trail Blazers.

Portland never did establish something and stay with it. The Trail Blazers tried Arvydas Sabonis up top, went with Pippen slashing from the wings, mixed in a little Steve Smith but used a surprisingly small amount of Rasheed Wallace.

"We slowed ourselves down in the second half," Pippen said. "That's what I was taking advantage of [in the first half] I was using my quickness to attack them. We should have played a little smarter, but the pace that we should have stayed at worked to our advantage."

So what will the Trail Blazers say next? The whining that began immediately after Game 1 made the three-day gap between games seem even longer. Pippen was part of the chorus griping about Shaquille O'Neal's alleged illegalities. He even accused Kobe Bryant of faking his rib injury so that he could come back and seem more heroic--a la Michael Jordan.

Pippen's frustration stems partly from the way Portland's season is dwindling to a disappointing conclusion. And it must be partly due to the realization that it's becoming increasingly evident that he'll never lead a team to an NBA championship on his own.

He'll always be Buzz Aldrin to Jordan's Neil Armstrong.

He has six championship rings, but when he polishes them he'll see Jordan's reflection, not his own.

There's no shame in riding shotgun. You can say the same thing for a lot of all-time greats.

And in Pippen's chances to be top dog, he never had another in-his-prime, hall-of-fame player in a secondary role beside him. In other words, Pippen never had someone to play the part of Pippen.

He had a year and a half without Jordan in Chicago, that ill-fated season with aging all-stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley in Houston , and now two seasons with this increasingly dysfunctional Portland group.

But you can't say Pippen didn't have his chance to grab these Trail Blazers and lead them. Someone had to, especially after Mike Dunleavy lost this team.

And in the fourth quarter, when the Trail Blazers started behaving like a group of third-graders whose teacher had left the room, Pippen even got in the act and threw an eraser.

When Bryant had an opportunity for a breakaway dunk, Pippen reached around and grabbed him. Nothing unusual there, but then he gave Bryant an extra little shove in his tender ribs.

Bryant took much stronger exception to that than he did to Pippen's words earlier in the week. He was ready to go after Pippen, but Horace Grant, Pippen's old running mate in Chicago, interceded and calmed both sides down.

"Kobe doesn't want me to hit him in the ribs," Pippen said. "Next time I will hit him in the ribs. I didn't hit him in the ribs. I just tried to stop him."

Where is Pippen headed next? He is clearly frustrated by his inconsistent role in the offense, but Dunleavy's expected dismissal could alleviate that. Besides, the two years and $38 million remaining on his contract would make it hard for the Trail Blazers to move him if they purge their roster.

He's 35. And as the 22-year-old Bryant said while complaining about tendinitis in his knees before the game, it's not the age so much as the mileage. And Pippen has taken an extra 2 1/2 season's worth of laps in the postseason. Thursday night marked his 200th playoff game, a number surpassed only by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 237.

It didn't bring him any closer to a title of his own. It doesn't look as if he'll ever be more than Buzz Aldrin. But at least he got to walk on the moon.


J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address:

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