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Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

Lakers Don't Seem Too Distracted

October 29, 2003|Mark Heisler

Did you hear about the promotion the Lakers are planning for next year's opener?

They're giving away pieces of the dynasty.

Of course, there's a season to play first in which anything (shudder) could happen. It began Tuesday night, after two days of civil unrest, with, of all things, an impressive 109-93 victory over the Mavericks.

Not that the Mavericks, who have now lost 25 games in a row to the Lakers here, were caught by surprise. The Lakers may be a spectacle on "SportsCenter" these days, but playing them is still like going to the circus to see the lions and tigers, knowing you've got to climb into their cage with them.

It was Maverick owner Mark Cuban who predicted the Kobe Bryant rape case would actually spur interest because, he said, viewers like "train-wreck television."

Of course, that was during the relative peace and quiet of the summer. Now, after two days of debate between Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, the viewers are looking forward to "world-colliding television."

"That's not my problem, that's their problem, so I don't want to say too much about it," Maverick Coach Don Nelson said. "But I feel for Phil [Jackson] and the organization and the guys who have to go through that. It's not a pleasant thing for anybody."

Don't cry for them, Dallas.

With Bryant out, the Lakers were down to three future Hall of Famers in the lineup, so even if Gary Payton missed a lot of shots early and Karl Malone had to figure out how to get his shots in this offense, they looked impressive.

The third is, of course, O'Neal, who was a special problem for the Mavericks, with Nelson having given up on big centers for the moment having traded his, Raef LaFrentz, for Antoine Walker.

That left Danny Fortson, who is 6-7; Dirk Nowitzki, who couldn't guard a tree; the 230-pound Antawn Jamison and the 250-pound Walker to take turns on O'Neal.

Even slimmed down to the 330- to 340-pound range as Shaq is, he still is a lot to handle for a man who is five inches smaller or 80 pounds lighter.

Guess what? It didn't work again.

The Mavericks, only recently a high-scoring team that started last season 12-0, began this one by missing their first six shots, turning the ball over twice and watching the Lakers run to a 23-8 lead.

After that, the game got loose but the Mavericks never got closer than six points. The only drama left was Bryant's return to the bench at the end of the third quarter as the TV cameras zoomed in on him and the fans chanted his name.

"The reason they struggled in the preseason, was the same reason we did," Nelson said before the game. "They played some younger guys together, but when they had all those guys on the floor....

"I mean, you put good players together, they are going to play well together. It's just kind of a natural deal with them, the playground to the NBA, doesn't matter. You get a team of good players, they are going to beat lots of other good teams."

Tuesday, the Mavericks weren't in the same league. An elite team last season, they are back to being picked among the also-rans, and even they don't seem too confident.

"Mavs fans are used to that [being overlooked]," Cuban said. "We are used to predictions we'll be fifth by L.A. writers, or not being respected. I mean, the question we all get is, 'Why do you think we're not respected?'

"Well, we haven't won a championship yet. That's one reason.

"That's just the nature of the beast. There's more ink about Jason Kidd and Alonzo [Mourning of New Jersey] and [New York's] Antonio McDyess' knee and Shaq and Kobe because those guys are in the media centers. That's just the way it works."

In this particular media center, it doesn't work the way it used to, but for the moment, in a new development, it's cool.

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