- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

LOS ANGELES One can almost get lost in the pantheon of stars that proliferate the Western Conference finals. Begin with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the anchors who have the Los Angeles Lakers gunning for a third consecutive NBA title.
About 400 miles to the north, the Sacramento Kings boast Chris Webber, perennial All-Star and owner of the second-biggest contract in a league full of eight-figure deals.
But the guy who perhaps made the biggest difference in the best-of-7 series, which resumes with tonight's Game 3 at Staples Center, is Sacramento explosive reserve point guard Bobby Jackson.
A bundle of energy when he enters games to relieve starter Mike Bibby, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is giving the Kings a boost off the bench that so far has dwarfed anything the Lakers have gotten. Over the first two games, Jackson averaged 19 points, made 14 of 24 shots from the floor and outscored the entire Los Angeles bench 38-23.
"I think it's safe to say that Bobby has been the most important factor in getting us to 1-1 in this series," Webber said. "He's coming off the bench and making things happen quickly."
Jackson has caught the Lakers off guard considering he was barely a blip on the radar in four regular-season meetings between the teams, averaging just 7.7 points.
Jackson, realizing the enormity of the job that lies ahead of the Kings, does not seem content to rest on his laurels. He sounds as if he believes the Kings can win this series only if they can dictate the tempo at both ends of the court. In Game 2 they built a 15-point fourth-quarter lead, a task which should prove much harder to accomplish at Staples Center tonight and Sunday.
"We just have to keep coming out hard and make them take tough shots," Jackson said. "Believe me, we know what we can do. We just have to come out and play the way we know how to play."
When Sacramento has turned to him, Jackson has intensified the Kings' attack at the Lakers' basket. This has been especially helpful considering key Sacramento big men such as Webber and center Vlade Divac have not played with much physicality at the offensive end.
Jackson's weapons are his scoring and his ability to pressure the opposition's ball handlers. And the Lakers have taken notice.
"You talk about playing with energy, that's what he brings," said the Lakers' Rick Fox. "He plays with great belief and confidence, and he's attacking the basket with a lot of intensity."
Jackson's defense has also helped the Kings neutralize Lakers point guard Derek Fisher. Fisher was just 1-for-9 from the field in the Kings' Game 2 victory, and for the series is 5-for-20.
"It's pretty difficult for Fish. He's got two guys in Bibby and Jackson who require kind of All-Star attention," Fox said. "We've got to help him out, clog the lane a little better."
Said Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson: "We've got to meet [Jackson] at the basket. He's hit a couple of 3s from his favorite spot. We know where that is, and we have to be there. But mostly, he's just been getting to the front of the rim, and we have to be there when he does."
Easier said than done. Jackson has gotten progressively better in the playoffs, averaging 5.8 points in the first round and 13.6 in the second.
"I'm not really watching the numbers," Jackson said. "I'm just trying to play better each time out."
So far he's meeting his expectations.


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