Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Seen and heard last night at MCI Center:
STILL THE LAKERS’ LEAGUE Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea that the Lakers are no longer head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
“The thing about [Lakers coach Phil Jackson] is that he knows he has the best team,” Collins said. “And so as much as the home court is vital, I think from the Lakers’ standpoint I think they know that they are the best team. As much as Sacramento has a great home court, or maybe Dallas or San Antonio, I’ve always felt that when those teams play the Lakers during the regular season it is much more vital for those teams to beat the Lakers than it is for the Lakers to beat them. There is just a presence about the Lakers that they have that they know they are the champions.”
The Lakers are presently the third seed overall in the Western Conference, and they have not entirely looked like the team that went 23-1 over the last eight games of the regular season and the playoffs last season. They began this season 16-1 and there was talk that they would challenge the 1996-97 Bulls’ record for regular season wins (72-10).
STAY WARM That was the purpose of the black therapeutic sleeve that Michael Jordan wore on his right leg. The sleeve looks much like the one worn by Toronto’s Hakeem Olajuwon. This marked the first time this season Jordan has worn the sleeve
FAIR WEATHER This truly is the only way to describe fans inside the Beltway. As the Lakers broke out to a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, the sellout crowd cheered the Lakers’ every basket, and they were still screaming when the Lakers held a double-digit lead in the second quarter.
Honestly now, you don’t think this would happen in Boston or Philadelphia if their team were trying to sneak into the playoffs? Of course not. Nonetheless, there were as many Laker fans in MCI Center as there were Washington fans.
STAR GAZING MCI Center is never going to be confused with either Madison Square Garden or Staples Center, but the Lakers did bring out some local stars.
Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon of the national champion Maryland Terrapins sat courtside. Also in attendance, sitting on the baseline near the Lakers’ bench, were Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and coach Steve Spurrier. Darrell Green was also present, as was former Redskin Brian Mitchell, now with the NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Robert Johnson, formerly the majority owner of Black Entertainment Television, was also at the game.
TRAFFIC WREAKS HAVOC Moving the game’s starting time back one hour played havoc on nearly everybody involved. The Lakers’ team bus arrived late. Collins was also late. Even Michael Jordan arrived late to MCI Center, forcing the team locker room to open 15 minutes later than usual.
How bad was it? Even the reporters from Los Angeles complained about the congestion.

John N. Mitchell

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