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One Thing Consistent: Defense Isn't Resting

Lakers: Players say there's a reason for the Nets' 34.9% shooting, and it isn't simply an off night.

June 08, 2002|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not glamorous, it's not pretty and it's often overlooked.

But as the Lakers showed again Friday night in a 106-83 dismantling of the New Jersey Nets in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, their defense is second to none, especially with an NBA championship on the line.

While the Nets obviously have their hands full trying to get a handle on Shaquille O'Neal, their problems aren't limited to defense. They're not going to win if they make only 34.9% of their shots, as they did in a wire-to-wire Laker romp.

"That's what we've done for a long time," forward Rick Fox said of the Laker defense. "That's how we've won championships. We have a great offensive system, but in that system we're allowed to have great defensive balance. We can get back, we can close lanes down, we can control the tempo.

"We have some great individual defensive players on this team. It all starts with Shaq and Kobe [Bryant], who are willing to play defense, which makes it easier for Robert [Horry], myself and Derek [Fisher] to be aggressive. There's a lot of talk about our offense, but our defense is what wins us championships."

The Nets don't need reminding.

Jason Kidd, whose brilliant play carried the surprising Nets to the Eastern Conference championship, made only six of 17 shots in Game 2 after making 11 of 26 in Wednesday night's 99-94 Laker victory in Game 1.

Keith Van Horn, five for 14 in Game 1, went three for nine.

Kenyon Martin, seven for 22 in Game 1, went two for eight.

That wasn't even the worst of it. Reserve guard Lucious Harris, who played at Long Beach State, marked his homecoming by making one of 14 shots in the two games. In Game 2, he missed all nine.

"This team, because we score and we have two dominant players, our defense is going to get overlooked," Laker forward Samaki Walker said. "But in the fourth quarter, we're a better team than most because we play defense.

"We stop teams and we make the plays down the stretch."

Such as they did Friday night, outscoring the Nets, 25-8, in the last eight minutes after the visitors had closed to within 81-75 with a 14-2 run that included four three-point baskets, two each by Kidd and Kerry Kittles.

Kidd didn't make another shot and Kittles made only one.

As long as the Nets were willing to fire up three-point shots--they made six of 22, after making five of 16 in Game 1--the Lakers were willing to let them.

"Most definitely," Walker said. "They're a team that likes to go backdoor a lot. They're energy players--they get a lot of points in transition--so as long as they're taking contested shots, we feel comfortable."

Fox expects the Nets to shoot better when the series shifts to East Rutherford, N.J.

"They'll have an energy that's different, they'll have their fans," he said. "They'll have the support of their rims and their baskets, a more comfortable environment, which I'm sure we'll get them off to a better start."

But the Lakers, a third consecutive title in sight, will have their stoppers.

"We're a very good defensive team," Fox said. "It's not a fluke. It's not something we do once in a while. We do it consistently, especially at this time of the year. Individually, we make the commitment and collectively we support each other.

"A lot of people talk about, 'Well, teams just shoot poorly.' Well, there's a reason for that. Eventually, hopefully, after we win another championship, and another one and another one, people will look back and say, 'Wow, those were some pretty good defensive teams.' "

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