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First Look

April 18, 2002|Tim Brown

*--* Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers FORWARD: Rasheed Wallace, the most temperamental player in an edgy group, averaged 19.4 points and 8.2 points in his first season as a captain. He is a difficult defensive assignment for the Lakers, who have trouble with him inside against Samaki Walker or Robert Horry, and outside against Shaquille O'Neal. He made a crucial three-point basket that sent Sunday's game into the first of two overtimes. Bonzi Wells had a breakthrough season, averaging 17.1 points and 6.0 rebounds. He scored 33 points Sunday against the Lakers CENTER: Arvydas Sabonis occasionally was able to push O'Neal beyond his comfortable shooting range, which at times gave the Trail Blazers half a chance against him. But Sabonis retired, and Dale Davis has neither the girth nor the height to stand inside with O'Neal. Shawn Kemp has the girth but none of the mobility, so this is where the Lakers do most of their damage. Davis averages 8.9 rebounds and 9.6 points but probably won't come close to those numbers against the Lakers GUARD: Damon Stoudamire had his best season since being traded from Toronto in 1998, right up until the police investigation with a game left in the season. He made 35.3% of his three-point shots. Scottie Pippen gets a lot of the credit for the Trail Blazers' second-half surge, but he has been only so-so against the Lakers and his former coach, Phil Jackson. Ruben Patterson comes off the bench and hounds Kobe Bryant, often pressing Bryant into poor decisions and shots COACHING: Maurice Cheeks, who replaced Mike Dunleavy after the last time the Lakers met the Trail Blazers in the postseason, has never coached in the playoffs. After a tumultuous start, it appears Cheeks has Pippen leading and the rest following, which got them this far. Jackson has won 141 of 191 playoff games, 15 of 16 last season ANALYSIS: There are few defensive answers to O'Neal, but the Trail Blazers are particularly lacking. A small lineup could be bothersome to the Lakers, but not enough to turn a best-of-five series

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