- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

The 76ers apparently are planning to keep their appointment with the Lakers tonight.

That is their second mistake since Sunday night. The first was beating the Bucks.

The series figures to be one-sided unless Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant come down with the flu or opt to play with their hands tied behind their backs.

Can the 76ers win a game? That seems to be the only question, and answering in the affirmative is only one-fourth of the assignment.

The Lakers are chasing history, looking to become the first team to go undefeated in the playoffs. Except for Rick Fox's unruly hair, the Lakers have looked flawless in the postseason.

The 76ers are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1983 only because someone is obligated to represent the Eastern Conference. The 76ers might have qualified for the playoffs in the Western Conference, although even that would have been negotiable.

The Timberwolves ended up as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and that was with the threesome of Kevin Garnett, Terrell Brandon and Wally Szczerbiak.

The 76ers are Allen Iverson and a cast of modest parts. Iverson shoots the ball, while his teammates get into rebound position. This is Larry Brown's genius, which he first demonstrated with Danny Manning at Kansas.

Brown suggests he has learned an awful lot from Iverson, and likewise, which just goes to show you that winning resolves even the most dysfunctional relationships.

The real genius is that Iverson was not dispatched to the other team in Los Angeles last summer, which scared both the owner and the player. The trade that did not go down is more significant than the one that resulted in Dikembe Mutombo in midseason.

Mutombo speaks a couple of dozen languages and dialects, and usually, he needs to clear his throat in all of them. Mutombo is all arms, legs and sharp elbows, and occasionally, he is a threat on offense, as he showed George Karl, who is starting to look more like John Lithgow than John Lithgow.

Eric Snow is down to one good foot, which is a concern, considering how limited he was with two good feet. Tyrone Hill has two good feet but two left hands whenever he attempts to shoot the ball. Matt Geiger and George Lynch are on the bench in street clothes, if it matters, and it probably doesn't in Geiger's case.

Even the intangibles favor the Lakers, starting with the exchanges between the Zen master and Chief Crazy Horse.

As usual, the Zen master is sitting pretty, either filing his nails or napping on the bench between possessions. He also is dating the owner's daughter, which is better than a lifetime contract.

O'Neal and Bryant take care of the hard stuff, and the rest of the Lakers are content to contribute in small but effective ways.

Isaiah Rider is clapping well from the bench, consigned there out of deference to his emotional well-being after he failed to respond to the Zen master's special incense.

In Rider's absence, Derek Fisher has emerged as the team's third option, sinking 3-pointers with incredible proficiency. Fisher is in a zone, as it is said, and with the Zen master around, it is hard to say if the zone is part of this world.

The Lakers are well-rested, perhaps overly so, according to the pre-series sentiment. Too many days at the beach possibly would be an equalizer if the 76ers were somewhat competitive with the Lakers. But the Lakers don't have to be at their best against the 76ers to wind up bathing in champagne. Their B-game should be sufficient.

The biggest matchup, for both cities, could be the one between police and the disorderly. Win or lose, burning down the neighborhood seems to go with major sporting events nowadays, and it is up to the police to handle the mob with extreme care.

Odd as it seems, burning down the neighborhood works both ways for some, either heightening the joy or easing the disappointment, especially if you are a victim of society who was dropped on your head as an infant by a single parent.

Both cities have four games, five at the most, to prepare for the celebration in Los Angeles and the discontent in Philadelphia.


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