Are They Just Trying to Spoil Us?

The Lakers' consecutive-game hitting streak is now two.

Hitting enormous shots. Hitting enormously open teammates. Hitting their enormous stride.

Oh yeah, and hitting the Seattle SuperSonics upside their bad haircuts.

Rerun season arrived early Friday, to the delight of a town that could sit through this sort of thing until June.

For a second consecutive game, the Lakers showed up at a playoff game on time and stayed until the end, at which point the SuperSonics left the Forum looking as if they had been beaten over their head with a section full of yellow plastic noisemakers.

The Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals with a 119-103 victory that was good theater and better soundtrack.

There were chants of "Ed-die, Ed-die," for a player who found that taking control of a game isn't such a hassle after all.

There was the "Sonics . . . , Sonics . . . " which, while losing points for crudeness, scored well for emotion.

Then there were the howls, eyes wide and fists clenched, the howls from a team that is just now realizing how much fun it can be when nobody cares who gets the credit.

"Tonight was a time you dream about," Derek Fisher said. "Two great teams, the playoff atmosphere, the way we came together."

Usually it only Shaquille O'Neal who is howling.

But this time, and not coincidentally, it was Shaq's Guys.

There was swaggering Nick Van Exel, 22 points, four assists, no turnovers, a dramatic jumper in the final second of the first half brought the place to its feet while sending the SuperSonics on a downward spiral.

There was stalking Robert Horry, scrambling for rebounds and throwing floor-length passes and finally playing every bit of his 6 feet 10 inches.

There was smiling Eddie Jones, who, despite the defense hype, can dominate a game with his shot when needed, and he knows it, and we know it. And for once, he did it.

Nothing against his specialty, but the Lakers won this game not only with Jones' grunt work, but with his high-flying dramatics--which included 29 points and four rebounds. They will win a few more if he keeps this personality around.

One could also mention Fisher's diving for loose balls, and Corie Blount's seven rebounds. But suffice to say, O'Neal was the Lakers' leading scorer and rebounder and hardly warranted a second look.

Which is the only way this team can win.

"We do so much better when Shaq is just part of the team, not the team," Fisher said. "Tonight we all were involved on offense, which gives you more energy for defense and the little things."

All of which illustrated that what happened in Wednesday's 24-point Laker win in Game 2 was not an illusion.

The Lakers really can outhustle one of basketball's most hustling teams. They really can outsmart the old guys.

With all that went on Friday, you would have thought it was two nights ago in Seattle, with a couple of possible exceptions.

In Seattle, there are no empty seats in the second quarter.

In Seattle, nobody has to endure silly Magic Johnson commercials.

But who's to quibble? It was a fun night, and the fans eventually shouted themselves hoarse.

Heck, the Forum audio people even played "I Love L.A." with all of 10:17 remaining in the game, ensuring that many fans were hearing it for the first time.

Even though the SuperSonics later offered one more push, the game was essentially set starting with the last two minutes of the first half.

Then, with the SuperSonics leading by two, the Lakers found what Del Harris likes to call "the flow."

Like hot lava, it was.

Horry drove the lane with a couple of options, ignored them both, and jammed.

Horry grabbed the ball under the Seattle basket after a free throw by Gary Payton and threw it the length of the floor to Jones, who had sneaked behind the defenders for a jam.

Jones drove for a reverse layup that became a three-point play.

Van Exel made that basket in the final seconds, giving the Lakers a five-point halftime lead.

"I forget about all of this a little bit, but tonight, it came to me," said Horry, who earned two championship rings with the Houston Rockets. "This is fun basketball. This is everybody doing what it takes to win."

Now we'll see if they can out-tough them, when the SuperSonics return here Sunday afternoon for Game 4 that is a must-win for George Karl's team.

The Lakers probably will have to do it again without Kobe Bryant, who remained home with flu.

This is not exactly the bad news that it seems.

It has already been proven that that the playoffs are not much in the way of good learning environment for our celebrated student.

The SuperSonics think a struggling Bryant probably doesn't fit into the current Laker team concept as well as others, and that their chances would be better against his freelance style.

And the SuperSonics could even be right.

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