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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

This Might Be Jackson's Best Not-Coaching Job

January 27, 2002|T.J. SIMERS

When the Lakers were 16-1, and everyone else considered the task almost impossible, I still had Phil Jackson in the hot tub with Jeanie when it came time for the NBA All-Star game on Feb. 10 and today's deadline to determine who will coach the Western Conference.

I'm not clairvoyant; I've just seen Jeanie.

Now I'm not sure anyone but the very best coach in the NBA could have pulled off this monumental shift down in the standings to bring us to this exciting finale today in Philadelphia--of all places. Winning eight NBA titles with a combination of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant on your side is relatively easy in comparison to blowing a 16-1 head start on the season, and trying to avoid another trip there in two weeks to coach the Western all-stars.

If Phil is as good as I think he is, one more loss in Philly today, and he's home free with Jeanie and Dallas' Don Nelson is stuck in Philly on Feb. 10.

Do you realize the work that has been done to get here--matched against the likes of Chicago, Memphis, Denver, Miami and Golden State, and having to lose with Kobe and Shaq on the court?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that--even when things looked their bleakest at 16-1--Phil had already made reservations for the All-Star weekend, knowing very well he would be in his robe and sandals dining in the Casino Dining Room at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs, where he and Jeanie spent the break a year ago.

What makes Phil the greatest, of course, is you never really see him at work. I mean, everyone was amazed about the Clippers' victory over the Lakers and without having Lamar Odom--never realizing that loss looked as if it might keep Phil home. But then Minnesota's Flip Saunders pulled a Phil against Toronto on Friday night, and even if the Clippers wanted to beat Dallas it wouldn't have mattered.

Jackson has to lose one more game to complete the dive. The coach of the Western Conference team with the best winning percentage as of today--excluding Sacramento's Rick Adelman, who worked the game last year--gets duty in Philly.

No one expected Phil to take it to the wire after such a hot start. And some people probably won't give Phil his due, calling it merely circumstances: Shaq getting in a tiff with Jackson; Shaq taking some time off to rest his feet; Shaq getting suspended for three games; and the Lakers going 13-10 since Phil realized where he was headed.

But when Phil wants the Lakers to turn it on, they can turn it on, so it's understandable when he wants them to ratchet it down, they can do that, too. When the Lakers opened the season playing so well, Phil made a point of giving guard Lindsey Hunter some of the credit and told us he noticed Hunter didn't play as well in Milwaukee last year when he was asked to come off the bench.

After the Lakers fell to 16-2, Phil sent Hunter to the bench and started Derek Fisher in his place. After what he had to think was a Two Bunch Palms-clinching loss to the Clippers, however, Phil reinserted Hunter

into the starting lineup against San Antonio, the Lakers won and Phil was back in the hot seat.

One more mistake like that--one more win--and Jeanie will be steaming all right, but not as planned.

Let's be honest, though: Who would you rather have coaching in a big game than Phil? I'm sure he'll be at his very best.

*

CREDIT USC Coach Henry Bibby with confusing Stanford on Saturday, and allowing his Trojans to run off with an impressive comeback victory.

I'm not sure anyone had a clue what Bibby was doing--the way he was throwing in seldom-used substitutes such as Gregg Guenther Jr., and playing head games with Sam Clancy and Desmon Farmer in the first half--while falling behind by as many as 13 points. Fortunately Bibby left freshmen Rory O'Neil and Errick Craven alone, and allowed them to keep the Trojans close until a relentless full-court press destroyed Stanford.

*

WHAT HAPPENS first? Craven's graduation from USC before a new basketball arena is open for business? Or Craven's children graduate from USC before a new basketball arena is open for business?

*

THERE ARE five finalists vying to become the Angels' broadcaster--as if any of them has a chance against a guy named Joe Angel, the former Marlins' announcer.

*

BRYANT HASN'T decided if he will accept a three-year, $54.8-million contract extension on top of the $40.5 million the Lakers already owe him over the next three years. Forget about trying to spend all that money, what a wonderful feeling it must be to hesitate about taking $54.8 million.

*

EIGHT WORKERS filled two dumpsters and a wheelbarrow with the debris thrown on the ice in the final minutes of the Kings' game at Staples Center on Saturday.

"We have passionate fans," Staples spokesman Michael Roth said.

I believe the appropriate response should be: "We have stupid fans."

*

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S senior college basketball writer Grant Wahl put out a list of eight teams he feels have the best chance of winning the national title. His lists the past two years have included the winners--Michigan State and Duke. This year's list: Duke, Georgia, Gonzaga, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and UCLA. I'm told Wahl is aware Steve Lavin is still coaching the Bruins.

*

TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Mary:

"Don't you have something to say to Georgia [Frontiere] if the Rams win the Super Bowl again?"

Knowing her record, if I say, "I do," that could get me in trouble.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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