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By DARRELL FRY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001
Memo to all NBA playoff teams: Thanks for some memorable first-round games, but you might as well pack it in now and save yourselves the grind and stress that come with the playoffs. This NBA championship thing is a done deal.
It's going to be the Lakers. Again.
Given what transpired over the weekend, there really is no other logical conclusion. Forget about the San Antonio Spurs. They were everybody's favorite, but they're toast now that Derek Anderson (separated shoulder) probably is done. (By the way, the Lakers swear that new BMW they sent Dallas forward Juwan Howard had nothing to do with Howard causing Anderson's injury.)
The Philadelphia 76ers had the best record in the Eastern Conference, but they don't look like they want a piece of the Lakers. Heck, after losing Game 1 at home to Toronto on Sunday, the Sixers might not make it to the next round.
The Milwaukee Bucks are hot, and they've slapped around the better Western Conference teams this season. But do you really think the Bucks, playing with virtually the same personnel who lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, are suddenly going to win the whole thing?
Sacramento, Dallas and Charlotte can be lumped into the same group: not ready. Like it or not, we're left with the Lakers. Again.
If the Lakers were any hotter, they would be a fire code violation. The last time the Lakers lost, the Devil Rays were undefeated. Counting the regular season, they've won 12 straight.
They swept Portland in the first round like they were playing a YMCA team, and they took the first game Sunday against Sacramento in the conference semifinals.
The Kings played them close, but it's not the score that tells you the Lakers will be adding more jewelry next month. It's that jolly yellow giant in the middle. The one who fashions himself basketball's Superman and plays like it.
Let's face it. When Shaquille O'Neal plays the way he did Sunday, the Lakers are virtually unbeatable. They proved that in winning the title last season when Shaq averaged 30.7 points and 15.4 rebounds during the playoffs. This season the Lakers went 9-3 when the Diesel scored 35 or more.
Did you see his numbers Sunday? We're talking 44 points, 21 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. For a few players, that's almost a good season.
"That's the reason they're so good," Kings star Chris Webber said.
Get this: The Kings figured they couldn't afford to double team Shaq because the supporting cast would kill them. That's how well these Lakers are playing. Opponents are worried about Rick Fox and Derek Fisher almost as much as Shaq and Kobe Bryant.
"We have to find a way to counteract Shaq," Kings coach Rick Adelman said.
Yeah, while he's at it, maybe Adelman will find a way to counteract the Ebola virus.
Look, the only team that's going to keep the Lakers from winning the title is the Lakers. They've had episodes of self-destruction this season with the ego-driven bickering between Shaq and Kobe, and Kobe and coach Phil Jackson.
But it seems that's been straightened out, and now this exceptionally balanced team is swinging from both sides of the plate.
Oh, the Kings will put up a fight. And barring an injury to Shaq or Kobe, they will lose. They'll lose tonight, and they'll lose the series.
The limping Spurs or the upstart Mavs will be next, and barring anything catastrophic, they will suffer the same fate. As for any of the four remaining East teams giving the Lakers a run, forget it.
The Bucks, who beat the Lakers both times they met this season, could be a little tricky, but think about the matchup at center: Shaq versus Mark Pope and/or Ervin Johnson. I mean, I might as well be guarding Shaq.
So, get ready for the parade of courtside movie stars at Staples Center. Get ready for the incessant chants of "Back to back."
It's already over. Again.
The only thing left to be determined is what time the riots will start.