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  Sat, June 5, 2004


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Lakers triumph is not inevitable
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Calgary Flames are not cut from the same mould.

The underdog Flames have been a Cinderella story while advancing to within one win of the Stanley Cup.

The Lakers?

Well, back when this season began, they were as heavily favoured to win it all as any club in recent NBA history. Far from a Cinderella story, the Lakers' two biggest stars -- Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant -- regularly acted like evil step-sisters. But often the journey is more intriguing than the result.

With the Lakers set to play host to the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of the NBA final tomorrow, we've run into several people during the past couple of days who have reacted to the Lakers' presence with a cynical roll of the eyes.

"Sure, the Lakers are going to win again, because they have the most money," is the usual refrain. "Karl Malone and Gary Payton signed on so the Lakers could be a virtual all-star team. Of course they're going to win. Who couldn't see this coming?"

True, it would be absolutely shocking if the Pistons seriously were to challenge the Lakers. But the Lakers' trip to the final was not inevitable, folks.

In fact, they were on life-support at least three times during the regular season, and most notably twice since the playoffs began. Where would the Lakers be right now if not for Derek Fisher's miracle shot? Probably picking up the pieces after a disastrous second-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

To dismiss that drama as "inevitable" is to ignore one of the most bizarre treks to a possible title ever seen in pro sports. It would be like poo-pooing Randy Johnson's recent perfect game by saying: "He's the best pitcher in baseball, so why is that so interesting?"

Good lord, it's not as if the Lakers haven't been challenged, both externally and internally.

"When we went through some pretty tough times, I used to sit in the locker room and I kidded the guys," Malone said. "I'd say: 'You guys won three championships (from 2000 to 2002) with all this going on?'

"Then Rick Fox would look at me and say: 'Karl, if it had been smooth around here, we wouldn't have won any.' "

But even by the Lakers' ridiculous standards, this season has been weird. There were the ongoing legal proceedings for Bryant, who is facing rape charges in Colorado. There was the battle of wills between Bryant and O'Neal. There are questions about Kobe's future with the club. There are questions about coach Phil Jackson's future. There was Malone going on the injured list for the first time in his career. There was Payton bitching about his role, and Fisher bitching about losing his starting job to Payton.

When functioning properly the Lakers are the best team in the NBA. But it took an unlikely hero -- Fisher -- to lift them in Game 5 against the defending-champion Spurs.

Fisher took an inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds on the clock and swished a prayer of a shot that won the game and gave L.A. a 3-2 lead.

'Most uncertain'

Had Fisher misfired, the Lakers would be long gone. They might have won Game 6 back home, but it's hard to imagine they would have dethroned the Spurs in Game 7 in San Antonio.

"This year was the most uncertain," Fisher said. "This team did not feel as connected as other Lakers teams. For several months I did not know what was going to happen."

No, the Lakers don't have the Cinderella credentials of the Flames. But at no juncture was it guaranteed the Lakers would get an invitation to the ball. Quite the contrary.

They had to play the games, and some of those games were great. That shouldn't be forgotten, regardless of what happens now.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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