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Laker Title Run Will Soon End

May 04, 2003|Sam Smith | Chicago Tribune

On closer inspection, perhaps this isn't such a dynasty.

There's no way the Lakers should have won the NBA title in 2000, not with Portland holding a 15-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of the conference finals. Even Phil Jackson knows that.

There's no way the Lakers should have won their third consecutive title in 2002, not with that ridiculous Robert Horry three-pointer in Game 4 of the conference finals and some curious officiating in Game 6. Rick Adelman knows that.

Is it greatness or luck? Do teams lose because of the Lakers' transcendence or their own ineptitude? If it keeps happening, it must be excellence. But this Laker team that eliminated the Minnesota Timberwolves in six games?

"This is just typical playoff basketball," Kobe Bryant said. "We're not supposed to sweep every series. The Bulls got down 0-2 [in the Eastern finals] in 1993 before they won their third."

True, and this wasn't a terrible Minnesota team, especially with Troy Hudson playing so well. Hudson played two years in the CBA and has been waived by four NBA teams, including the Timberwolves and Clippers.

He averaged almost 28 points in the playoffs, double his regular-season average, which was a career high. He's about 6 feet tall and 165 pounds. He wears dreadlocks and never gets shot at outside nightclubs. And this guy was a problem for the Lakers?

But Hudson's effectiveness on the pick-and-roll, a longtime Laker weakness, sent Derek Fisher to the bench for bigger guards Brian Shaw and Devean George in last Sunday's comeback win. Horry, worn down from having to start much of the regular season because Laker ownership was too cheap to spring for a power forward, now hopes mainly to hit the bench when he aims.

Rick Fox is out for the remainder of the playoffs because of a torn ankle tendon. Bryant hasn't shot much from the perimeter because of a strained shoulder.

This Laker team isn't going to win another NBA title ... although perhaps it's better to say "shouldn't win" another NBA title. Because they shouldn't have in 2000 and 2002, and they did.

And there was another one of those conspiracy games that sure makes it look as if someone wants the Lakers in the Finals.

Probably ABC-TV. If you don't subscribe to cable or satellite, you probably don't know that anyone other than the Lakers and the Timberwolves were in the playoffs. Their games have been the only ones on network television. Although there's this O'Neal guy ...

He has been hurt this season, and uninterested. He's said to be overweight and out of shape. He's often too tired even to make up good nicknames. But he makes teams disappear.

"We can't even find Rasho [Nesterovic] on Doppler radar," Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders said of the scoring disparity between the two centers. "I'm somewhat surprised they don't chant MVP [as L.A. fans do for Bryant] when Shaq is at the foul line. Maybe they see something I don't."

The Lakers are tired, beat up, worn out from three championships runs, aging around the edges and short on personnel.

The end figures to come sooner than later. Unless they really are greater than anything we can see or explain.

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