- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

The Lakers had the stronger heads, the Kings the stronger team.
That was the difference in the series, slight as it was.
The heads visualized the victory before the game, courtesy of a shrink working from the Zen master's blueprint.
The mental medicine was powerful enough. Shaquille O'Neal persisted in making a high number of his free throw attempts, no small feat for someone with his wretched shooting form.
The Kings could only lament what they thought was theirs, no doubt after undergoing the Heimlich maneuver following the game. The lump in their collective throat was pronounced.
There was an air ball from Peja Stojakovic, a brick off the glass from Doug Christie and a sudden aversion to shooting the ball by Chris Webber. The basket looked microscopic to the Kings, notably from the free throw line and 3-point arc.
Vlade Divac ended the season on the floor, with a sixth foul, looking up in disbelief. This was an appropriate farewell after Divac insisted on putting each game in the subjective realm of the referees. It worked for him at times. It also worked against him. Serial crying eventually leads to a lack of credibility.
The Kings, coach Rick Adelman included, spent a lot of the playoffs trying to officiate, imagining conspiracies if the calls did not go their way. This is a hard way to go. The referees are not blind, even if it seems that way at times. They could appreciate Divac's reluctance to stand in place around O'Neal. They could not endorse it with impunity.
The Kings were left to make a promise to return, just as the Trail Blazers did two years ago. Alas, the opening in the championship window is a funny thing. It can close over the darnedest things, the printable interpretation of Rasheed Wallace's season-long protests.
Mike Bibby wrested control of the Kings from Webber and Stojakovic, the most compelling team dynamic of the series. Bibby couldn't help but be an improvement over the hillbilly obsessed with stupid basketball tricks. But Bibby's emergence as the leader of the Kings was unexpected, almost jarring after he spent three seasons among the missing in Vancouver.
The Kings lost their nerve, plus the series and the NBA championship, given what passes as the best from the Eastern Conference. The Nets might have qualified for the playoffs in the Western Conference. Jason Kidd's Suns made a habit out of that, just nothing more.
The city leaders in Los Angeles can make the parade arrangements in good conscience now. Pass the champagne and Botox, the essentials of any party involving the pretty people. A shot of both keeps the worry lines away.
The Lakers did not fall down, mostly because of Zen, positive vibrations and a championship pedigree. It also did not hurt to have the conviction of O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the two most imposing forces in the NBA.
The Nets plan to put Todd MacCulloch in the vicinity of O'Neal, possibly with a straight face. MacCulloch is one step slower than slow, which is quibbling in the vast wasteland of the East. A 7-footer who can breathe on his own is usually sufficient in the East. That quality is not expected to thwart O'Neal, assuming MacCulloch does not have garlic on his breath.
The Nets are a nice story, as long as you hold your nose around their competition and dwell on their history instead. They have purged a quarter-century's worth of incompetence and bad memories in one season and answered at least one question, namely: Whatever happened to Joe Piscopo, the franchise's pseudo-celebrity supporter?
The Nets inherit part of the suspicion from the 76ers, the weaker conference's flawed entrant in the NBA Finals last year. The 76ers were competitive only to a point against the Lakers, making a five-game series out of it, one more than envisioned.
The Nets are possibly up to that challenge, modest as it is. Their surrender is negotiable, after all, whether the series lasts four games, five or six.
Prodded by the Kings, the Lakers have rubbed the boredom from their eyes. O'Neal is active again, Bryant has recovered from a bad hamburger in Sacramento, and the Zen master is digging deep into his bag of psychological tricks.
Fire up the incense.
The threepeat is on the way.

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