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David
04-13-2003, 09:17 AM
Lakers' irregular season takes another turn

Friday, April 11
LOS ANGELES -- There was a punch here the week before Halloween, and then a Kings KO on Christmas Day, and now the Lakers have finally won a round at Staples Center to complete the tracing of an amazingly bizarre circle.

Except that Derek Fisher had another word for it.

"People were saying the Lakers weren't going to make the playoffs, and it's not like everyone got off to a start like Dallas," Fisher said. "That was absurd."

The absurdity, actually, is the mockery the Lakers are making of the regular season. They started only 3-9 without Shaquille O'Neal and went only 8-10 to welcome Shaq back, slumping to the nadir of 11-19 when their chief rivals from Sacramento came to Staples and eased past the wooden champs in the second half on Christmas.

Even L.A.'s good nights in the second half didn't look quite as convincing as they did on paper, until Thursday night's 117-104 triumph over their chief rivals. The Kings were at full strength and the Lakers were, too, which probably explains why Fisher rattled in four straight triples after a 1-for-8 first half ... and why Robert Horry (Mr. Is It May Yet?) was diving at midcourt like Pete Rose when the ball popped loose ... and why O'Neal and Kobe Bryant happily handed the scoring load back and forth, depending on who saw the least coverage.

Visits this week by the Mavericks and Kings have resulted in the most sustained full-out effort the Lakers have mustered all year. And if it continues Sunday in Portland, then next week against Denver and Golden State, what happens next would be truly amazing and absurd.

For starters, the Lakers only need two of those games to get to 50 wins. That's quite a climb from 11-19 for anybody, and you can glance at the East standings real quick to confirm that 50 wins still means something.

Even more absurdly, the Lakers will suddenly rise to No. 4 in the West if they win all three, no matter what Portland and Minnesota do from here. Late-season stumbles from the Blazers (6-8 with Scottie Pippen out) and Wolves (3-5 lately and 8-10 since March 2) have put the prospect of Crib-Court Advantage, as Shaq affectionately refers it, in the Lakers' hands for the first time all season.

Like we said: It was a season, all right, but it sure wasn't regular.

It can't be making Phil Jackson look forward to next season, even if the Lakers win title No. 4 in a row. Hard to imagine the coach talking about focus and discpline for another 82 games after these 82 ... assuming the Lakers don't have one more pratfall in them by, say, losing to the Nuggets or Warriors next week.

Dropping one of those games would be the perfect illustration of how uninterested these Lakers can look. Yet the playoffs are close enough that we might have seen the last of those Lakers.

"In retrospect, I suppose there's a lot of things I could say and probably will at some point after the season," Jackson said. "Right now I'm too close to turn around and look at it and say we probably should have done this or probably should have done that better."

"We obviously would like to have the months of November and December back," Jackson added, "but we can't get back what we lost."

Absurd as it sounds, they actually have retrieved a lot of it.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

jayC
04-13-2003, 06:33 PM
La lost to portland on rasheeds 3 pointer with 4.1 seconds left DOH.