The Lakers met the enemy Monday night, and it was them.
The Kings played a much better game than the opener Saturday, but the Lakers were accomplices in that success.
Uncharacteristically, the Lakers fell for the fool's gold, the early J, the jump shot that tempted them early in the clock. So they yanked some up, all too many of them. Had they waited, two better things might have happened. They would have had a better look later in the clock, or they could have swung the ball a bit and gotten it into Shaq. They had that patience against San Antonio and they had it in the first game against Sacramento. This time, they didn't. The Lakers' shot selection was questionable, as was their shot allocation. This was a strange-looking triangle offense. They all thought they were the point of the attack, rather than part of the triangle. Especially Derek Fisher. Too many early shots, long launches before any offense or ball movement could begin.
Having said all that, the scary thing is, the Lakers nearly won.
Sacramento adjusted well. We said after the first game that they ran the same stuff too often, that their two-man game with Chris Webber and Mike Bibby to the left of the key was all they had and all they did. And we said the Lakers are too good, too veteran to not handle that kind of static attack easily. You don't need to have 31 flavors, but all Sacramento had Saturday was vanilla. You need at least four flavors, and this time the Kings had at least that many.
They re-picked at least two of the five times they set Monday night. They also picked in the backcourt, picked at the top of the key, they picked coming from the weak side and ran pick and rolls. When those didn't work the first time, they replaced and did it again.
Webber is crucial to what they do, and he had what I call a blended game. I think he read what Bill Plaschke wrote Monday morning, or he listened to what Bill Walton was saying about him on TV.
He established a low-post presence part of the time. He also made some jump shots. He took it to the rim and finished. He got some offensive rebounds and he got to the free-throw line a lot. Even if he isn't making his free throws, he's got to get there. If he is getting there, it's saying plenty about how aggressive he is playing.
Two plays by the Kings were characteristic of the good game they had.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Scot Pollard set the backcourt pick that freed Bobby Jackson to go all the way for a key layup. In Game 1, the Lakers slowed the Kings down with backcourt pressure. This time, Pollard helped relieve that.
Then, right after that, Pollard made a tip-in of a miss by Jackson. Great movement, when the Kings were really building the lead, and they needed every point they had at the end.
The Kings also forced Shaq to be much more active, to work much harder, than in the first game. Their big players need to come across the floor and set picks. That makes Shaq come with them to defend.
The main differences in this game and the first were that the Lakers weren't the Lakers. Instead of passing and rotating and being patient, they played as individuals. The other difference was that Sacramento wasn't so predictable. The Kings changed the angles of their picks, they tried new ones, they threw some change-ups with the fastballs.
And they decided one more thing: That they were not going to let the role players--Fisher, Lindsey Hunter, Rick Fox--beat them. Were they successful? Fisher had four points, Fox 10, Hunter zero.
You be the judge.
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.