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Stopping O'Neal Is the Key

STRATEGY

June 06, 2001|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's really no secret to the Lakers' success during the playoffs. They have the most dominating player in the league and maybe the NBA's most complete player and a cast of players who have played their roles to perfection.

In order for the Philadelphia 76ers to capture this year's NBA title, they will have to be able to play the Lakers straight up.

Which means center Dikembe Mutombo will have to defend Shaquille O'Neal by himself and Aaron McKie, Eric Snow and even Raja Bell can't count on help when they are matched up against Kobe Bryant.

If they don't, such Laker perimeter players as Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Brian Shaw will send them home early, the same way they did to the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs.

During the regular season, the Lakers had some problems with their offensive flow, but that has not been the case in the playoffs.

The Laker coaching staff has done a masterful job making little adjustments to their triangle offense. They are not as predictable, and their role players are knocking down open shots whenever needed.

If Mutombo cannot slow O'Neal or gets into early foul trouble, Laker fans can get their brooms ready. Because if Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown is forced to make adjustments to keep O'Neal from dominating both ends of the court, the rest of the Lakers will have their way.

Allen Iverson's speed will give the Lakers problems, and if he can get into the open court for easy baskets, that will help the 76ers defend O'Neal down low. Brown could play all of the big men he has on his bench. Unlike Sacramento's Rick Adelman or San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, Brown will not hesitate to change things up to help his team win.

He did that in the 76ers' Game 7 victory over Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals. Not too many people knew of Bell, but he made a difference with his quickness and aggressive defense.

Jumaine Jones and Bell give Philadelphia more athletic players on offense to complement Iverson. With O'Neal in the middle, Iverson's penetration game may be hurt a little, but don't expect the 76er guard to stop driving to the basket. With the outside shooting of Jones and Bell to go along with McKie and Snow, Philadelphia may surprise the Lakers with a variety of offensive options.

In the postseason, the 76ers have crushed teams with their offensive rebounding. They count on Iverson to take most of their shots and then crash the boards for rebounds. But with O'Neal and Horace Grant, the Lakers may be too strong for Philadelphia.

Philadelphia needs to have everyone penetrate, not just Iverson. If they get caught up into shooting only from the perimeter, they will play right into the Lakers' hands.

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