Lakers, Shaq await to pick apart East champ

May 29, 2001 10:28 AM

Following their incredibly impressive four game sweep of the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers must now play the waiting game before resuming their assault on history and the record books.

The Lakers have won all 11 playoff games, which extends their overall winning streak to 19. No team has ever gone through an entire playoff season without losing at least one game, but the Lakers are on the verge of doing just that if they can sweep the survivor of the Eastern Conference championship.

The Lakers have already swept their first three series and their ousting of the Spurs was shocking in terms of the ease with which it was accomplished. San Antonio had the top seed in the league by virtue of having the NBA’s best record during the regular season.

But the Lakers made the Spurs look like an average college team as they totally dominated virtually every phase of the game, especially on defense. The Lakers won by an average of 22 points in their four-game sweep. They have averaged winning by more than 15 points per game, which, if sustained, would also set an all-time record. Interestingly, should the Lakers complete this historic feat, coach Phil Jackson will once again be linked with the magic number of 23. Only this time it’s not a reference to Michael Jordan, but rather to the length of the winning streak the Lakers will have attained at the end of the playoffs.

Now, back to the Eastern Conference championship. At press time the Bucks held a 2-1 edge over the 76ers with game four yet to be played. Philly’s Allen Iverson is expected to play in what could be the pivotal game in the series. A win by Philadelphia on the road would even the series, and they’d reclaim the home court advantage returning home for what would then be a best-of-3 series.

But should favored Milwaukee win game four and thereby take a 3-1 lead, the Bucks would enjoy a commanding lead and be the healthier of the two teams as they head back to Philadelphia.

Expect the home team to be favored in all remaining games of this series and for the likely result to be dependent upon the results of game four.

”¡Should Milwaukee win Game 4 and head to Philly with a 3-1 lead, the Bucks remain the solid choice to win the series and face the Lakers. In such a scenario the 76ers would be the play at home as a moderate home favorite of between five and seven points. But, assuming Philly wins Game 5, Milwaukee becomes the play to wrap up the series in Game 6, provided they are favored by no more than four points.

”¡If Philly returns home tied at 2-2, Game 5 becomes extremely important for the 76ers since a loss would send them back to Milwaukee needing to win there to prolong the series and then win again back home. Milwaukee would only have to win Game 6 at home, something it would be expected to accomplish.

The keys for the remainder of this series continue to be Milwaukee’s better-balanced offense versus Philadelphia’s significant edge on defense.

Milwaukee is better suited to give the Lakers a challenge since it is better-balanced team than Philadelphia. If healthy, Philly’s defense could make for a competitive series against the Lakers, but injuries to virtually all of the 76ers’ starters suggest the Lakers would have less difficulty in defeating Philly than they would in defeating Milwaukee.

Once again, the strategy is to not bet against the Lakers until (or unless) they lose a game straight up in The Finals. It may not happen.

The Lakers are clearly motivated by the opportunity to make history and until that possibility no longer exists, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and an underrated supporting cast should not be, pardon the expression, bucked.