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MavKikiNYC
12-07-2003, 10:32 AM
Defying Every Foe, Even Age

It is becoming evident with every rout of a so-called power that little can stop the Los Angeles Lakers: not a looming criminal trial, not infighting, not a confusion of roles and probably not an opponent. In compiling their 16-3 record, the Lakers have beaten Dallas twice, San Antonio three times and Indiana once, all by an average of 12 points. Only a humbling of the Sacramento Kings remains for the Lakers to send a message to every challenger to their title quest.

Yet with so many distractions and so little time together, the Lakers are still probably far from their peak. Coach Phil Jackson expects that to come at the right time: in the postseason.

"You don't play back-to-back games in the playoffs, so that's a time when this team will really perform at its peak," he said.

Except for any complications arising from Kobe Bryant's sexual-assault case, Jackson's lone concern might be the Lakers' age. Karl Malone is 40 and Gary Payton 35.

"People were surprised when we won those last championships in Chicago with Michael and Dennis playing in their mid-30's," Jackson said.

Michael Jordan was 35 when he won his last title, and Dennis Rodman was 37. But they were not the first old-timers to play major roles in winning a championship. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain each won titles at 35, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won three championships after turning 38, including his last at 41. At 37, David Robinson was a key part of San Antonio's unseating of the Lakers last season.

The exceptional health of Malone and Payton bodes well for the Lakers. Unlike Bryant, 25, and Shaquille O'Neal, 31, Malone and Payton have yet to miss a game because of injury. Malone has missed only 10 games in 19 seasons.

Three weeks ago, Malone was bothered by a sore hamstring, and after irritating it against Detroit, he appeared to be in bad shape. Malone insisted on playing the following night in New York. Jackson let him but said he saw a time coming in the regular season when he might have to keep a sore Malone out of the lineup.

Malone improved after his injury in Detroit, averaging 11.8 rebounds over the next seven games. He also notched a triple-double while playing 26 minutes in a rout of San Antonio.

If age doesn't stop these Lakers, who or what will?

LRB
12-07-2003, 10:50 AM
If age doesn't stop these Lakers, who or what will?

Certainly won't be Nellie's coaching. i/expressions/face-icon-small-disgusted.gif