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Harris Happy to Share Win With Bertka

In the moments after Tuesday’s emotional victory at Seattle, Coach Del Harris, practically giddy, brought his three assistants out with him for his usual postgame meeting with the media, wanting to stress the “team victory” to the end. So Larry Drew, Kurt Rambis and Bill Bertka crowded alongside.

As if Bertka’s role hadn’t already been apparent. For the second time in 2 1/2 weeks, he had been forced to take over in an emotional setting, after Harris had been ejected in the fourth quarter of a close game. The first was March 14, while the Lakers were erasing a 24-point deficit to the Clippers before losing.

This time, against the Seattle SuperSonics, the 69-year-old longtime assistant stepped in with 3:52 left and his team clinging to a three-point lead in a game that could hold major implications in determining the Pacific Division champion. The Lakers’ moment to shine, holding on for an emotional win on national television, also became Bertka’s.

“A couple times a year is enough,” Bertka said. “Let people know I’m still breathing.”

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So he has reached the limit. A couple times in a season.

“This one,” Bertka said, smiling, “Del gave us a lead at least.”

Said Harris, returning the needle: “He was pushing me up there [toward the officials]--'You going to take that?’ ”

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Even with a much more favorable schedule down the stretch than the Lakers, the SuperSonics admit they are suddenly, inexplicably, laboring emotionally, searching for energy that has disappeared or been benched like Shawn Kemp. It’s to the point that Coach George Karl and Gary Payton met after Tuesday’s game, a conversation that neither would discuss later but clearly was about finding themselves again.

At least the confidence remains, though.

“I still think we’re the best team in the West,” Karl said, not sounding overly concerned about being reeled in by the Lakers. “And I think we’re going to prove it the next nine games.”

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In a move he usually reserves for the playoffs or training camp, Harris, hoping to eliminate some of the distractions, has decided to close practices to the media and fans for the rest of the season.

In the past, he has had an open-door policy, especially at Loyola Marymount, for the second half of workouts.

“We’re up against it,” Harris said. “We’re going to have to make the most of all the minutes.”


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