Sunday, June 09, 2002

Defense making the difference for Lakers

AP Sports Writer

        EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Shaquille O'Neal absolutely tore up the New Jersey Nets in the first two games of the NBA Finals.

        And not just at the offensive end.

        But while O'Neal's 76 points and 28 rebounds stand out, it's been on defense where the Los Angeles Lakers have really controlled the action so far, slowing New Jersey's vaunted running game to a crawl.

        The Nets hope to change that Sunday night in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series at Continental Airlines Arena.

        “We're not running the break like we have been running it all season long,” Nets coach Byron Scott said. “That's something we have to address and we have to get back to.”

        If they don't, they could quickly be history.

        “It doesn't look glamorous, but we're a very good defensive team,” Lakers forward Rick Fox said. “It's not a fluke, it's not something we do once in a while. We do it consistently, especially at this time of year.”

        The Nets shot a miserable 34.6 percent (30-of-86) in dropping a 106-83 decision in Game 2, and were 37-of-94 (39.4 percent) in losing the opener 99-94.

        That's 67-of-180 (37.2 percent) overall — and that won't get it done.

        “We made the commitment and collectively support each other,” Fox said. “It's rather strange to hear, but a lot of people always say: "Well, teams just shoot poorly.' There's a reason for that.

        “Hopefully we'll win another championship, and maybe another one and another one, then people will look back and say, "Wow, those were pretty good defensive teams.' But right now, we just go out and do our job. We don't do it for the praise or the recognition. We take a lot of pride in going out and playing both ends of the floor.”

        A look at the box score of Game 2 shows the kind of defensive effort the Lakers put forth:

        ———Kenyon Martin, guarded mostly by Robert Horry, was held to six points and five rebounds.

        “I'm just playing basic defense,” Horry said. “Ain't no telling how he's going to play in New Jersey, in his comfort zone.”

        Martin scored 21 points in Game 1, but shot just 5-of-17, and was 2-of-8 in Game 2.

        ———Keith Van Horn, guarded mostly by Fox, shot 3-of-9 and scored nine points.

        “I really think they've done a good job of plugging up the lane and forcing us to take jumpers,” said Van Horn, held to 12 points in the opener.

        ———Jason Kidd, guarded mostly by Derek Fisher, scored all 17 of his points in the second half — after the Nets fell behind for good.

        “Overall, we were in control of the tempo,” Fisher said. “Everything revolves around Shaq, offensively and defensively.”

        While there's obviously not much the Lakers need to change defensively, it's clear the Nets have to do something different, although the way O'Neal is playing, it might not matter.

        “Byron's probably going to experiment with some zone, pack it in and make us shoot from the perimeter,” Fisher said. “We're prepared for that.”

        Fisher has struggled with his shooting recently, at least in part because he's been matched up with San Antonio's Tony Parker, Sacramento's Mike Bibby and Kidd since the first round of the playoffs.

        But he had a big fourth quarter Friday night, shooting 3-of-4 with two 3-pointers and adding a pair of free throws.

        Nevertheless, as he said, the Nets probably will try to force the Lakers to beat them from outside.

        And that makes sense, although as Fisher put it: “I don't think there's anything you can do to slow Shaquille down. You just have to hope he doesn't have a good game.”

        Nevertheless, Fisher said the Lakers have a lot of work to do to win their third straight championship.

        “There's no love lost for us back there on the East Coast, so it's going to be really rowdy and we're going to have to be ready to play right from the start,” he said.


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