Fast Eddie Steps Up the Pace

If the playoffs are about "stepping up," then Eddie Jones has been on the Stairmaster the past couple of weeks. He has set career playoff highs in three of the Lakers' seven postseason games, capped by Friday night's 29-point performance in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against Seattle.

"I was just aggressive," Jones said. "Sometimes I'm not aggressive, but tonight I was just aggressive, coming out trying to get to the basket, trying to get open. I think when I'm aggressive I'm a lot better.

"I think sometimes I try to let the game come to me, when sometimes I should be selfish and trying to take the game."

Good thing for the Lakers that Jones has been very selfish lately.

"I think I have to be selfish now," Jones said.

Whatever works.

When Jones plays this way, everyone in Lakerland is in for an enjoyable evening.

The Lakers said earlier in the week they didn't want to get into a three-point shooting contest with the SuperSonics. The way it's going lately, Seattle would be ill-advised to start up a game of H-O-R-S-E with Jones. He made three of five in Game 2, while the SuperSonics made only four of 16.

His three three-point baskets in the first half Friday were as many as Seattle made in 10 attempts.

He was slicing through the lane and beating the SuperSonics downcourt for easy dunks. At one point, Jones was feeling so good he went into Kobe Bryant mode, neglecting to swing the ball to an open Derek Fisher and trying to drive into the congested lane.

That was about the only thing he did wrong, and about the only time anyone had cause to think about Bryant. Jones' solid play has made the flu-stricken Bryant's absence a nonissue.

Laker Coach Del Harris tried to blunt the criticism Jones has received in the past--and possibly head off any bad words that might come should Jones drop off in Game 4--by saying: "The guy that averages 17 [points] gets 24 some nights and gets 10 some nights. That averages 17."

That might work mathematically, but the best method in the NBA is the Shaq Approach: Score 27 one night and 29 the next to average 28.

Jones' Game 3 performance, in which he made 12 of 17 shots (including four of seven three-pointers) and blocked four shots, come on the heels of his 23-point Game 2. Jones has enjoyed these two splendid offensive nights while playing some tough defense on Gary Payton at the other end of the court.

Yes, Payton finished with 22 points and 13 assists. But he did most of his inside damage, whether it was scoring or drawing other defenders for the easy pass-off, against Nick Van Exel and Derek Fisher.

When the SuperSonics made a 12-0 run early in the fourth quarter, most of it came with Jones on the bench.

But Jones was in to help restore order, and he was around when the Lakers had the game in hand and were making Showtime dunks in the final minutes.

O'Neal has been openly critical when the Laker guards don't play well, and much of that can be interpreted as being directed at Jones.

Jones isn't about to let the mumbling giant worry him.

"I had John Chaney for four years," Jones said of his coach at Temple. "I know how that is. I had that at 5:30 every morning."

Harris tried to spread around the credit to the many deserving parties Friday night, from Robert Horry to Shaq to Nick Van Exel to Corie Blount.

He saved Jones, "the obvious" choice, for last.

No mistake, though, this was Eddie's night, first and foremost.

It's enough to make you wonder: What is Isaiah Rider up to these days?

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