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Xs and O's RICK MAJERUS

Net Fan Says Lakers Will Win

June 05, 2002|RICK MAJERUS

I need to start with a disclaimer.

I never had a son, but if I had, I would want him to be as nice a person as Keith Van Horn, who played for me at Utah. And if my son also were one-hundredth the basketball player, I'd be the happiest guy on earth.

Understand that, while I may be the only writer from the L.A. Times--or any other paper, I presume--with a Nets' cap on, the readers will get objectivity, even those sending me all those e-mails. (Please save the threats of bodily harm for the more deserving T.J. Simers.).

So, with apologies to Van Horn, I think it is clear the Lakers will win the series. Here's why:

There is no antidote for the Big Aristotle, unless somebody is asking him to take a philosophy test. Shaquille O'Neal will patrol the lane on both sides of the court and New Jersey will be hard-pressed to handle him with single coverage. Once Todd MacCulloch goes down for the count, the Nets have to go to Aaron Williams, who is too small. When they double-team, it will be just a matter of picking their poison.

There is also a school of thought that says Jason Kidd will lead a fastbreak attack that could do in the Lakers. But let's face it. New Jersey is the junior varsity of the pro fastbreak. The Lakers just beat the varsity. No NBA team takes the ball out of the net and gets it back on attack better or faster than Sacramento.

Sure, there'll be some tight moments. Phil Jackson might have to get up and ruffle some feathers, even take some timeouts as he did in Game 7 against the Kings. And the Laker players may have to forego all those timeout-huddle glances at the Laker girls for a while.

But ultimately, at the end of the day, you can count on L.A.'s transition defense to hold off the Jersey boys from the Bada-Bing Club.

New Jersey runs the Princeton offense. That's a combination of ball and player movement that includes shuffle movement and back-door cuts, as well as flare screens by the center out of the high post and counter-flow action off picks against the grain. (If that is too technical, send an e-mail to t.j.simers@latimes.com for an explanation and a giggle.)

The Lakers have the answer to the Princeton offense with Shaq and the other Laker big men bodying over and through the high picks set by MacCulloch. Also, Shaq is as savvy a veteran as there is at spotting repetition in an opposing offense and quickly tearing it apart. New Jersey better vary its act, or Shaq will knock it all the way off Broadway.

The Nets won't play as fast as Sacramento. New Jersey will take the break when it is there, and it is there a lot because the Nets are led by the best rebounding point guard in the game in Kidd. But overall, this will be more Laker tempo than the Kings' series.

The Nets' Kerry Kittles is likely to be embarking on a nightmare. Sacramento's Doug Christie bellied up to Kobe Bryant and did a great job of not being fooled by the footwork and change-of-pace dribbles. Still, Bryant scored in every critical, clutch situation that would be expected from the best or second-best player in the game today. Our prayers are with you, Kerry.

A side thought here. New Jersey didn't get a lot of attention for its box-and-one and its zoning in the Celtic series, but that sort of switching around of defenses was quite disruptive to Boston and might be, somewhat, to the Lakers. Look for the Nets to try those things. After all, what do they have to lose, except the series, which seems inevitable, anyway.

Also, look for New Jersey to play with heart and determination. I've been impressed with their patience, defensive pressure and attitude. However, the main stars in this performance, Shaq and Kobe, are wearing purple and will reign. Expect a prince of a show.

*

Rick Majerus, Utah basketball coach, will be The Times' guest analyst on the Lakers for the rest of the playoffs. Majerus, the fourth-winningest active coach in major college basketball, will begin his 14th season at Utah this fall.

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