- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Jack Nicholson is on one side and a cowbell is on the other.

This is the Lakers vs. the Kings.

This must be the NBA Finals, begging the pardon of the junior varsity contingents in the East and the formality in June.

The Celtics scored 66 points to win a playoff game last week. The Kings and Mavericks each scored that many in the first half of one of their playoff games.

Jason Kidd, with one eye almost shut, is a fitting symbol of the NBA's Palookaville. New Jersey, as New Jersey is, is another.

Viewer discretion is advised in the East.

In the West, the Lakers and Kings already are fussing with one another, the first indication of an appealing series.

They have a history, which favors the Lakers the last two seasons.

The Zen master, who has woken up from a fitful 82-game sleep, has accepted the underdog's role for his team, as if anyone imposed it on him. His team has claimed the last two NBA championships, and Shaquille O'Neal usually frightens Vlade Divac and Chris Webber.

Divac reverts to his flopping mode against O'Neal, and Webber moves to the perimeter to hoist jump shots.

As drama queens, Divac and Webber lack only a tutu. They unveil a wide variety of dance steps and anguished looks during a 48-minute game. They often look silly, and sillier still around those who follow the Lakers.

The real actors, Nicholson included, are at courtside, inclined to be as unimpressed as the three souls in stripes.

The series might be fun anyway, if only because of the clarity Mike Bibby lends to the Kings. He is the team's real MVP, the steady one who has not blinked yet in his first postseason appearance. He is the antithesis of Jason Williams, the clown who was dispatched to basketball purgatory after he made one too many passes to those in the stands.

There are at least two other agreeable changes. Rick Fox has lost his hair, and Rick Adelman his Hitler-like mustache.

The Kings almost have a clue this spring, homecourt advantage and, like everyone else, no answer for O'Neal, even a beat-up O'Neal.

That's Shaq Fu to his supporters, Shaq Phooey to Divac and Webber.

The three-second lane is where the series stands to be decided, assuming Divac and Webber bother to stand near O'Neal on occasion.

That is subject to debate, considering the proclivities of the flopper and the floater. O'Neal is not Wang Zhizhi, one of the 7-foot Mavericks with an almost pathological disinterest in defending the basket.

The Kings struggled mightily against the bumping of the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers bump just as well as the Jazz, and with more talented parties.

The Lakers also emphasize the fourth quarter, especially on defense, as the Spurs learned yet again. As robust as Tim Duncan's numbers were against the Lakers, he barely made a peep in the fourth quarter of each game.

Kobe Bryant is making a habit out of coming to the rescue of the Lakers, just one more step in his ongoing interpretation of a younger Michael Jordan.

Bryant has the walk, the talk and the mannerisms down, along with the cape on loan from Jordan. The worst that can be said of Bryant is he picked an excellent role model to emulate. That apparently is enough to irritate some, starting in his hometown, Philadelphia, where he was booed at the NBA All-Star Game in February.

As for the Kings, Predrag Stojakovic has been nursing a bum ankle, Scot Pollard a bum dye job. The bum dye has spread to Hidayet Turkoglu.

The Kings seemingly have a million quirks, taking nothing away from Doug Christie's primal scream therapy sessions. His emotional pain appears real enough. Get-well cards can be addressed to Christie in c/o of the Kings, One Sports Parkway, Sacramento, CA 95834.

Divac has pronounced the reign of the Lakers to be at an end. He also pronounced the Jazz to be dead after Game 1, just before the Jazz defeated the Kings in Game 2 and put a scare in them.

That is expected to be Divac's last sound until he goes crashing to the floor in the presence of O'Neal's breath.

But who knows?

If Divac and Webber develop a spine, the series could shift to the Kings.

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