Washington Post Please, Philadelphia, win one game. I understand winning even one is a lot to ask -- winning four is probably out of the question. (Though I love that 'David and Goliath' bit Larry Brown is peddling; the only drawback is that Shaq is so big he'd reach out, grab the slingshot and then eat it! And then where are you?)
One game is all I ask.
That way we can avoid that messy conversation about whether these Lakers are the best team ever. Because if they sweep the Sixers, they'll have a statistical claim to stake.
They'll have gone through the playoffs unbeaten, 15-0. No NBA team has ever done that. (To say nothing of the fact that the Lakers won the last eight games of the regular season, which would put their winning streak at 23. The Lakers haven't lost since April 1. That's nine freakin' weeks! Whaddya have to do to beat them, wear garlic around your neck and spear them with a wooden stake?) And they'll have pummeled the best the NBA has.
Portland ended up as dysfunctional as the Sopranos. But nobody can deny that on paper the TrailBlazers had the best talent in the league. Halfway through the season they had the best record in the Western Conference. L.A. swept them. The Sacramento Kings won 55 games, and rang up the highest offensive numbers in the league. L.A. swept them. San Antonio had the best record in the NBA and home court. The Spurs were ferocious. L.A. swept them. The Sixers have the best record in the East. They have the Coach of the Year, the Player of the Year, the Sixth Man of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year. If L.A. sweeps them, how can you argue these Lakers aren't the best ever?
They'd certainly be among the best. For my taste the Lakers of the '80s, with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, were better. As were their Celtic rivals, with Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. The 76ers of that same era, with Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Bobby Jones, were better. That's three teams, and that's just the '80s. My hesitation is that beyond Shaq and Kobe, I don't see much. On those '80s teams I haven't even mentioned Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott (Lakers); Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Bill Walton (Celtics); Mo Cheeks (76ers).
So I'm trying not to be greedy.
I'm asking Philly for one win.
(Okay, four. But that's because I've known Larry Brown almost my whole life. Larry was my camp counselor 90 years ago, and I'm rooting for him to prove everybody wrong on this series -- including me. He's now in position to do something no coach has ever done: win both the NCAA and NBA championships.)
It's hard to remember an NBA final where one team was such a heavy favorite. You can hardly find anyone who thinks the series will go more than five games. The Sixers are so hobbled at this point you half expect Iverson, Mutombo and Eric Snow to show up in L.A. in bandages, playing fifes and drums like in that painting of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
You know you're backing a longshot when folks say Philly's best chance to win a game might be that the Lakers come in 'overly rested.' You mean like instead of laid back, they'll be laid down? The Lakers have now had three months between Game 4 against the Spurs and Game 1 against Philly. In Los Angeles this is called 'going on hiatus.'
The Sixers may be banged up. But at least they are in rhythm. Allen Iverson just strung 46 and 44 together. Iverson will take between 30 and 35 shots a game until hell freezes over. So if he stays hot maybe he can singe the Lakers. Iverson will keep pushing the ball no matter what the score is. The Lakers may whale Philly. But Iverson isn't going to look at them the way Tim Duncan did at the end, like, get me out of here.
The common thread between Philadelphia and the Lakers is that their turning points hinge on trades that weren't made. Last summer Iverson was traded. The deal fell through when Matt Geiger refused to waive a contract clause. Iverson came back to the Sixers and started buying into what Brown wanted from him in practices and preparation. The result was this glorious MVP season. A few months ago Phil Jackson had a sit-down with Kobe Bryant, who'd expressed interest in being traded. Kobe's me-first style of play had alienated his teammates. Jackson told Kobe he needed to trust his teammates more. Since then the Lakers have been unbeatable.
The precocious stars on both teams, Iverson and Bryant, have come to trust the others. Kobe has found he can be a star, and let Shaq be a star too. And Iverson is saying publicly, "This is the first time I've ever felt like I'm on a team." (And that's with him taking 35 shots a game!) Iverson has been a freelancer his whole basketball life. But he's seen Eric Snow and Aaron McKie hit big shots, and he doesn't feel like he has to do it alone. The dirty little secret of the Lakers series, though, is that Iverson may have to.
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