I'VE GOT the worst news imaginable for the Lakers.
They've got it made the rest of the season. They began the post All-Star stretch Wednesday favored by 10 points to beat down-and-out Portland, and of their final 28 games -- only six come against teams with winning records.
They could play Smush Parker the rest of the way, headband falling down over his eyes while turning their back on Jason Kidd, and not sweat it.
The first trio of home games pit the Lakers against opponents that were a combined 41 games below .500 at the break, and you know what that means -- it couldn't possibly get any tougher than that for our marshmallows.
The Lakers are soft, and a competitive embarrassment at times. They lack the killer instinct of Lakers championship teams of old, who were known for sending a nightly message early on to the NBA's doormats that they were going to conduct business as usual.
The Lakers lost some of that on Phil Jackson's first tour of duty here, with Shaq allowed to mail it in at times and the Lakers showing more interest in pacing themselves during the regular season than going all out. But this group is befuddling.
They are nowhere as good as the Jackson-Shaq-Kobe Lakers, seemingly in need of every win, but given the chance to fatten their record, they've fallen flat.
A five-game losing streak and something like 10 or 11 losses in their last 15 games might raise concerns for some, but as favorable as the Lakers' schedule remains, there is no chance of the Lakers falling to the seventh or eighth positions -- and probably a quick first-round playoff exit against Dallas or Phoenix.
The Lakers look locked into sixth place. They have the schedule to go after fifth, but it would mean this team would have to develop a bulldog personality and with 5:55 remaining in the first half, the 10-point favored Lakers are trailing Portland by a point. Make that three points now.
It's maddening. But is it enough to convince the Lakers brain trust to abandon long-range plans in favor of adding someone with the competitive grit, leadership and NBA playoff experience of Kidd? \o7Does Kidd make only the difference between finishing fifth or sixth -- resulting in road openers in either San Antonio or Utah?
\f7That alone, you would think, would be a deal-killer. The Lakers only chance of playing at home in the playoffs is beating out San Antonio and finishing fourth in the conference. Not likely -- even with Kidd.
Or, is sixth place just fine for this group, and maybe a spirited, successful showing in the first round of the playoffs before the lack of home games finally takes its toll against better teams in the playoffs?
The Lakers now lead by two at the half. It looks as if they really mean business now.
\o7I\f7 \o7SHOULD\f7 have taken the hint when Peyton Manning made no mention of going to Disneyland after winning the Super Bowl.
Last week the whole family went. We arrived in separate cars, of course, because after the summer's RV trip, we know what it's like to be together.
Now I don't like rides. Haven't been on one since I was a youngster and I screamed to my grandfather to hold onto me because I was about to fall out while riding the Bobs, a killer rollercoaster at Chicago's Riverview Park. I'll never forget grandpa's response: "Kid, it's every man for himself."
Twenty-some years ago I took Miss Radio Personality to Disneyland -- long before she had developed a mouth. We walked from one end of the park to the other and looked at all the rides. It's what any parent would do for their kid.
She now talks about being deprived as a child, visiting Disneyland but never going on a ride. I wouldn't be surprised one day to see her on Dr. Phil.
Anyway, we got to Disneyland and right away Miss Radio is telling the granddaughter that G.P. won't go on a ride with her. And she wonders why she's not married.
Anything for the granddaughter, of course, so I went. And let me just say I was not the only one who went kicking and screaming onto It's a Small World.
Scariest ride they've probably got at Disneyland, and halfway through the tunnel lined with pygmies, our boat hit rock bottom because we had too many fat people aboard.
Two of our friends from Wisconsin had joined us.
Just imagine sitting there, minute after minute, and hearing that terrifying refrain, "It's a small, small world." And again, "It's a small, small world." And again.
No telling how long we were stuck, boat after boat pulling up behind us, and when we finally did get moving, around every corner there were more pygmies. Biggest darn world I've ever seen.
I'm the grandkid's G.P., of course, so I had to remain brave through the ordeal, although knowing I was probably undergoing the same treatment designed to crack war-time prisoners: "It's a small, small world." "It's a small, small world."
The granddaughter, fortunately, was preoccupied, asking over and over again for "Mow, Mow, Mow." I told her we'd find the furry little critter, and as they continued to play that song, I was thinking of the glue traps I had set in the garage.
We finally made it to safety, and Miss Radio Personality immediately wanted everyone to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. "Daughters Who Want To Get Back At Their Fathers," on the next Dr. Phil.
I went, I was not prepared for the initial dip into the abyss, the water we took on or the wet butt for the rest of the day. The happiest place on earth my ... well, we eventually did find the Mow, the granddaughter cried and I think I understand now why Manning called an audible and broke the Super Bowl tradition.