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J.A. Adande

Silence Is Golden, Especially on Road

January 07, 2002|J.A. Adande

TORONTO — The sweetest sound of an NBA regular season is silence.

What's the opposite of buzz? Malaise? Yeah, that.

"It's a great feeling to go in an arena and make them quiet," Laker forward Robert Horry said. "They're yelling at you, booing at you, calling you names, then all of a sudden, they're just sitting there, quiet."

Or better yet, they're getting up to leave.

That's what the Toronto Raptors' fans decided to do with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter Sunday, when only a timeout could delay the Lakers from administering Toronto's worst home defeat of the season. Apparently there were better things to do on this chilly, snowy day.

"Sent 'em packing," Kobe Bryant said, with a huge grin.

That's the goal for the Lakers this week. Put up and make them shut up. Show 'em what you've got.

They've been gearing toward this for two months now. Five games in five cities in seven days. Their first real test against the combined forces of air travel, bus rides, multiple hotel rooms and thousands of people screaming "Beat L.A."

Even in November, when it was all good, when they were on their way to a 16-1 start and the talk was of 73-9, not Shaquille O'Neal's toes and Bryant's ribs, Laker Coach Phil Jackson withheld judgment on this team.

"We still haven't hit the road," Jackson said.

That's the NBA's SAT. Only seven teams have a winning record on the road. Of them, San Antonio (9-4) has the best winning percentage, followed by the Lakers at 8-4.

But, before Sunday, the Lakers had played only 11 games away from Staples Center, and never more than two in a row.

"This is a big trip for us," Bryant said before the game. "This is a huge trip. San Antonio is right on our behind. We had a bad month of December. We're really looking forward to this road trip."

Bryant puts importance on every game--every practice even. He talks much trash during intrasquad scrimmages and plays with heart every time out.

More and more, this team is taking on Bryant's character. If O'Neal gives them the confidence that they can do anything because he has their backs, Bryant adds a strut to their steps and infuses them with a will to win.

"Every game is so big," Bryant said. "Every single game. We hate losing. We really, really do. We really, really hate losing. It's a team thing."

"When you go [16-1], you kind of get spoiled. Then, when you lose a game, you're like, 'What the ... ? This ain't supposed to happen. We hate this stuff."'

And so the Lakers did just enough to keep the Raptors within range after Toronto's hot start, then they blitzed them.

One of Jackson's tenets is that reserve players don't play as well on the road. He thinks they depend more on the home crowd and also tend to be shorted by the officials.

That wasn't a problem Sunday. Horry, Devean George, Lindsey Hunter and Mitch Richmond combined to score 12 points, and Bryant and O'Neal put up 20 to give the Lakers a six-point halftime lead.

Maybe that Jackson rule doesn't apply to the Lakers because of some of the people they have on their bench. Such as Horry, who has won four championship rings and carries this philosophy about road games: "No pressure."

"You always want to perform well in front of your fans," he said. "That's the way I always felt. There's more pressure to play in front of your own instead of on the road. On the road, the only thing you have to deal with is yourself and your teammates."

And now they have Richmond, who has had limited action this season but played 13 minutes Sunday. He made a three-point shot in the second quarter, when the Lakers scored 14 in a row to take the lead.

He is a former all-star and knows what it takes to win on the road.

"Really running your stuff and running your offense," Richmond said. "More so than anything, you've got to be poised and you've got to play defense. It's really difficult to play defense in somebody else's house."

Here's another idea: Get the ball to Bryant. He scored 12 of the Lakers' final 14 points of the third quarter, including 10 in a row after O'Neal left the game. Nothing wild, nothing forced, just the player on the court finding numerous ways to score.

With the big lead, Bryant spent the fourth quarter on the bench. A three-pointer by Richmond that gave the Lakers a 21-point lead made sure he stayed there.

Then came the timeout, and the mass exodus from Air Canada Centre.

"We just have to become consistent at doing that," O'Neal said. "Sometimes we win by 20, sometimes we win by two. However, a win is a win."

Only some wins matter more than others. It's like real estate: location, location, location.

Not only are the Raptors one of the better teams the Lakers will face this week, but it was an afternoon start after traveling across the continent.

"This is the worst in the league, when you go from the West Coast, all the way to the East," Derek Fisher said. "Especially playing in the early game, your body's really thrown off. It really takes a couple of days to get adjusted.

"When you handily beat a team the way we did, from the second quarter on, these are the types of wins you can really build on. Hopefully, this is a great start to a great trip."

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at: j.a.adande@latimes.com.

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