- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

LOS ANGELES David Robinson sat in front of his locker in the bowels of Staples Center with that half smile he wears during all postgame interviews.

Although his facial expression gave no indication what was about to come out of his mouth following the Los Angeles Lakers' stunning four-game sweep of Robinson's San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals, the words were clear and concise.

"I didn't think any team could make us look as inferior as the Lakers did," Robinson said, "but then, they've made a lot of teams look inferior."

This will be the Lakers' mission when they collide with the Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers tonight in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Lakers have run the table thus far, sweeping Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio to reach the finals with an 11-0 record in the playoffs. They have won their games by a gaudy average of 15.5 points (the average margin of victory against top-seeded San Antonio was 22.5). Dating back to April 1, the Lakers have won 19 consecutive games.

And even though history beckons them as they try to become the first team in NBA history to go through the playoffs without a loss, the Lakers' approach is the cliched "one game at a time."

"All the records would be nice," Kobe Bryant said, "but we're only concerned with playing the team that's on the court with us, not all those teams from history."

The team that stands before them is the 76ers. Although both finished with regular-season records of 56-26, the Lakers earned the tiebreaker by going 22-8 against the East (Philadelphia was 16-12 against the West). Now the 76ers, overachievers all season, can pull off another astounding feat in the eyes of many if they can avoid being swept.

"I'm just so happy we're going," coach Larry Brown said. "The Lakers are the best team… . It's like David vs. Goliath. That's the way it's going to be. We've got to figure out how to slay a giant. I don't know."

Although the Lakers have had no postseason adversity in reaching this point, the 76ers have struggled. They have been pushed to back-to-back seven-game series against Toronto and Milwaukee, and they have the battle scars to show for it.

League MVP Allen Iverson is still bothered by a bruised tailbone, among other injuries; Eric Snow has two fractures in one foot; Dikembe Mutombo has a broken finger; and starting small forward George Lynch is out with a broken foot. Also, Brown's battered team has had just two days' since the Eastern Conference finals clincher, while the Lakers haven't played for 10 days.

The Sixers have played 18 postseason games, one short of the maximum. Their average margin of victory has been 1.8 points.

Although the matchup at center between the Lakers' dominating Shaquille O'Neal and defensive player of the year Mutombo will be crucial Mutombo had not been traded to the Sixers in time for either of the two regular-season meetings, which the teams split the two players who will generate the most interest are shooting guards Iverson and Bryant, young players who faced down adversity this season to flourish.

Iverson, who feuded bitterly with Brown during the offseason, was as good as traded before the regular season began because of his refusal to show up for practice on time.

However, Iverson has not missed one practice this season without being excused, and he has become a player that Brown now lauds without prompting.

"I can't tell you how much this kid has done to make this work," Brown said. "We wouldn't be here without him, and we wouldn't be playing for a championship if he hadn't decided to make the changes he's made."

In their two regular-season meetings, Iverson, 25, averaged 33.5 points and shot 41 percent against the Lakers compared with 31.1 and 42 percent for the season. Bryant averaged 27 points and shot 54 percent against the Sixers compared with 28.5 and 46 percent for the season.

Bryant, who is now drawing comparisons to Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan, feuded openly with coach Phil Jackson and O'Neal for most of the season after working arduously during the summer to improve his game.


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