Welcome to the Lakers Invitational

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 21, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / April 21, 2000

What’s been longer than the Elian Gonzalez saga and the Edwin Edwards trial? The NBA regular season.

The season finally came to a close Wednesday night. It only took 82 games toeliminate a grand total of 13 teams. Those lucky 13 teams now get to enterthe lottery for the draft.

For the other 16 teams, their season continues on. And on. And on. Forabout the only thing that seems to last longer than the NBA regular season is the NBA playoffs. If form holds true, around the end of June we shouldknow who the NBA champion.

Of course, by that time, we’ll also probably know who is in the baseball All- Star game. The Cubs will probably have already been eliminated from thepennant race and Indians will just about have the American League Central clinched. For that matter, preseason publications for college football and theNFL will be coming out. And a month later, preseason publications on the NHLand, yes, the NBA, will start appearing on the newsstands.

Of course, if the seemingly endless regular season is any indication, the NBA can just forego the next two months of games and award the Los Angeles Lakers its championship. From almost start to finish, the Lakers have clearlybeen the league’s best team, perhaps its best since the glory days of the Michael Jordan Bulls. Which begs a question – how can one city have theleague’s best team (the Lakers) and its worse (the Clippers)? Yes, the Lakers look good on paper. But while they may be creating fieldsmade up of chopped up tennis shoes, they have yet to create courts of paper so the games must be played.

In the first round in the Western Conference, Sacramento gets to be the first sacrificial lamb thrown to the Lakers. The Kings may have ChrisWebber, the sixth-leading scorer in the league this season, but the Lakers have Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal may have had the most dominating performanceby any player not named Jordan over the last 20 years. Not only did he leadthe league in scoring and field goal percentage and finish second in rebounding, he actually learned (gasp!) to shoot free throws at a higher than 50 percent pace. Look for an easy sweep for the Lakers.Other matchups include Utah against Seattle. This will be the umpteenth timethat John Stockton and Karl Malone will be going for first NBA championship.

Don’t look for that to happen but the Jazz, who never seem to be knocked out of the playoffs early, to get out of the first round again.

Portland, which at one time appeared to be the Lakers’ major pretender to the throne, should get past Minnesota in the first round. The only lower teamthat might come out of the first round alive may be Phoenix. The Suns get toplay San Antonio with an ailing Tim Duncan.

The Eastern Conference will be like the AFC in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Whatever team comes out of the conference playoffs gets the pleasure of losing to the Lakers. Indiana, with its playoff experience, should get by Milwaukee in the first round. The same can be said for New York againstToronto but who knows what Vince Carter is capable of. Remember Jordanagainst Boston early in his career? Detroit, which likes to run, will be going up Miami, which doesn’t like to run.

Can you believe that would ever be said about a Pat Riley-coached team? And Philadelphia, led by Allen Iverson, should not have a difficult time against Charlotte.

I like Indiana to come out of the East, and of course, the Lakers in the West.

The Lakers then should cruise home to the title. Hopefully, it will be beforewe start buying hot dogs for the Fourth of July.

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