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Free-Throw Woes Get Even Worse

Just to prove those previous 82 games weren’t a fluke, or the season before that, the Lakers have lived down to their unchallenged title as the NBA’s worst free-throw shooting team, missing 16 of 35 tries in a five-point loss Tuesday and going 64.6% through the first three games against the Portland Trail Blazers.

That’s even worse than their regular-season posting of 67.9%, which is saying something considering the Lakers easily finished first in the league in scoring despite easily finishing last in accuracy from the line. In 1996-97, at least, they improved from 69.2% to 74% for the playoffs.

“Some situations are not made for everybody,” Trail Blazer guard Damon Stoudamire said. “You’re at the free-throw line, last seconds of a game, down two points, that arm can get a little tight.

“We know that because they are not consistent from the line, we’ll always be in games. I’m pretty sure they work on it, but . . . .”

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But . . . it doesn’t show?

Only one Laker is shooting better than 75% in the playoffs, Rick Fox at 90.9%. Shaquille O’Neal, four of 12 in Game 3, is 13 of 33 (39.4%) against the Trail Blazers, and Nick Van Exel is three of seven (42.9%) and Derek Fisher eight of 12 (66.7%).

“It’s just a matter of going out every day and practicing,” Coach Del Harris said, “and not everybody overreacting and panicking.”

History says he’s right, even if logic indicates otherwise--the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers, with Wilt Chamberlain’s 44.1%, and the 1977-78 Washington Bullets, as Elvin Hayes made 63.4% of his attempts, won NBA titles after finishing last from the line, and the 1981-82 Lakers tied for last.

And among the last four champions, none finished better than 10th, with that Houston Rockets of 1994 and ’95 getting that high. The Chicago Bulls were 13th in 1996 and 12th last season.

*

The Lakers, their hoped-for Tuesday getaway aborted by a loss, return to Los Angeles tonight, either to prepare for the second round or the prospect of elimination with a deciding Game 5 against the Trail Blazers.

The schedule possibilities:

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* If the Lakers lose tonight, they will play Portland on Saturday afternoon at the Great Western Forum.

* If the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves win tonight, Minnesota comes to the Forum, almost certainly Monday or Tuesday night, to begin the Western Conference semifinals in Inglewood with the 2-2-1-1-1 format.

* If the Lakers and Seattle SuperSonics win tonight, Seattle and Minnesota play a deciding Game 5 Saturday afternoon at KeyArena for the right to face the Lakers.

* If the SuperSonics come back from the 2-1 deficit to beat the Timberwolves, the series against the Lakers will open Monday or Tuesday in Seattle before moving to the Forum for Game 3.

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