St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Kings set to encounter Game 7 against vets

It's the Lakers' guile vs. Sacramento's team play and raucous fans.

©Associated Press

June 2, 2002

It's the Lakers' guile vs. Sacramento's team play and raucous fans.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- After two weeks of bad burgers, buzzer-beaters and brilliant basketball, the epic Western Conference final will be decided in one game today in front of the league's loudest fans.

To Phil Jackson, who knows more about playoff success than just about anyone, it's the only appropriate way for the Lakers and Kings to cap the best chapter in their thriving rivalry.

"There's a certain thrill about (Game7) that you don't find anywhere else in this game," the Lakers coach said Saturday.

The biggest game in Arco Arena history matches two-time defending champion Los Angeles against the Kings, who won the Pacific Division with the league's best regular-season record.

The series has been a fascinating clash of styles, with the Kings' consummate team play and the Lakers' unrivaled star power essentially battling to a draw. Sacramento has outplayed Los Angeles for long stretches, but the Lakers' will and championship wiles have generated just as many victories.

"I know the fans are loving what they're seeing, and that's good for basketball; that's good for all these kids watching on TV like I used to," Sacramento's Chris Webber said.

"I think it's great for the sport. Our sport is showcasing its young talent and older talent. (The series has) some great gunslinging,Pepto-Bismol games for people to watch."

The series, the first all-California conference final in 29 years, became a Golden State classic when Robert Horry hit his winning 3-pointer for L.A. in Game 4.

It became one of the NBA's best recent playoff series when Mike Bibby's jumper won Game 5 for the Kings.

It only got better when Shaquille O'Neal played a career-defining game Friday to save the Lakers' season.

This also has been a contentious series, with everything from hotel room-service food to the officiating open to critique. The Lakers complained O'Neal wasn't getting the respect he deserved while Sacramento won three of four games midway through the series. In Game 6, the Kings were whistled for a foul nearly every time they touched O'Neal.

The edge of big-game experience falls to the Lakers, though the champs haven't faced a Game7 in two seasons, and the franchise has never won a Game7 on the road, going winless in five tries.

"The Kings will have to play a game with some pressure that they've never felt before," said Rick Fox, who's always eager to needle the Kings. "Some of their coaching staff has, but the intensity of that is going to be great."

But the Kings, who haven't lost consecutive games in the playoffs, aren't buying it. After all, they're not exactly playoff neophytes in their fourth consecutive trip to the postseason.

"I don't believe anything the Lakers say," Webber said. "I've learned that all that is talk and rhetoric. We're a good team, and we're going to go out ready to play like every game. Experience, no experience, this and that; none of that matters when you get between the lines and give it your all, and you feel like it's your turn."

The Kings earned the right to host this game largely because of their 36-5 record at Arco during the regular season, which boosted Sacramento to 61-21 overall.

But the homecourt advantage hasn't meant much in the playoffs. Perhaps overexcited by their exhausting fans, Sacramento has lost one home game in each playoff series, including Game 1 to the Lakers.

HE SAID, HE SAID: No offense to the Nets, but whichever team captures the West probably will win the title, Jackson said.

Jackson said the Lakers and Kings have a considerable size and skill advantage over the Nets, who defeated the Celtics Friday for a spot in the franchise's first NBA title series.

"It's my feeling the Western Conference will win, but I'm very prejudiced toward this conference because I know the quality of the players, the size of the teams," Jackson said before practice. "It's very obvious that the big players out here are very skilled, very talented with great size."

The coach whose team was just vanquished by the Nets disagrees.

"I think they will bring the NBA championship back East. They're that good of a basketball team," Boston coach Jim O'Brien said. "I think the West is in for a rude awakening."

The Finals start Wednesday at the West winner.

RATINGS WINNER: The Nets and Lakers weren't the only big winners Friday. NBC had a good night, too.

Game 6 in the West drew a 13.5 overnight rating and 24 share, according to Nielsen Media Research, an 82 percent gain over the comparable game last season when Philadelphia played Milwaukee in the East final.

It was NBC's best postseason overnight rating, excluding the Finals, since Game 7 of the 2000 West final between the Lakers and Portland.

In the first game of the Game 6 doubleheader, the East drew an 8.7 rating and 16 share in the overnights.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.