A First-Stage Smog Alert for Lakers and Fans

PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS

As usual for this time of year, or any time of year for that matter, today's air-quality prediction for Tinseltown is bad. But frankly, it's not the purple haze of the choking smog that's causing buckets of phlegm to build in my congested chest.

Nah, that's been a function of the nauseating Los Angeles smug being bellowed by Phil Jackson and an entire city of overconfident Los Angelenos who view the 2001 NBA Finals as little more than a coronation ceremony for the Lakers' second consecutive title.

Look, it's one thing to think the Lakers are going to beat the banged-up Sixers for the championship. Admittedly, I've picked the Lakers to win in six.

Still, the way these West Coasters have summarily dismissed the Sixers' chances has been ridiculous. The readings on the smugo -meter hit an all-time low this morning. The Sixers smacked a heavy dose of reality into the plastic, artificial and transparent sect that tries to pass as basketball fans out here by stunning the Lakers , 107-101, in Game 1 at Staples Center.

"We know we can win," said Sixers guard Allen Iverson, who had seven of his 48 points in overtime. "We knew we could win before we got here. "Everyone counted us out. People saying we would get swept was a smack in the face for everything we did this year."

The way Laker fans were acting, you'd think simply winning the title wouldn't be good enough for them.

The clown wearing the Kobe Bryant jersey who carried a broom across Figueroa Street as he headed toward Staples Center perfectly illustrated the mind-set in Hollywood. The Lakers weren't just thinking about winning a second title. They were thinking about making history.

They had blown through the Western Conference playoffs with all of the precision of a focused juggernaut. Their 11-0 , cruise-control romp through the West had positioned them to become the first NBA team to post the perfect 15- 0 mark for the playoffs.

The Lakers had won 19 straight games and hadn't lost since April Fool s' Day. They were the steamroller and the Sixers were supposed to play the willing pancakes.

'I don't know," Brown said of whether the ir underdog status inspired his players. "[The Lakers] should be the favorite. We recognize that. 'But the thing about us is we're just going to go out and compete and hope people step up and help the little guy [Iverson]. Nobody was crazy to pick [the Lakers]. But our guys try hard. The bottom line is , we know you have to play the game. This is unexpected but kind of neat."

It was kind of humbling for the Lakers, particularly Jackson , who had spent the 10 days since the Lakers swept the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the Finals belittling the Sixers, the Eastern Conference and Iverson.

Now the Zen master has to eat a little crow and prove that he ha s the ability to get his ego-bruised charges to respond to a bit of adversity. For the first time in these playoffs, Jackson has to actually be a great coach instead of just talk about his being one.

"I'm kind of relieved [the winning streak] is over," Jackson said, "but it does put some pressure on us to win at home. The streak was great, but now it's time to get down to business and win some ball games."

Kind of makes you wonder what the Lakers were doing in those 10 days off while the Sixers were keeping their hard-edge d mentality by beating the Milwaukee Bucks in a tough seven-game series.

'This is the Los Angeles Lakers," Iverson said of whether the Sixers are satisfied with just winning Game 1. "If we feel like we won this game and everything is over, we came out here for the wrong reasons. We didn't come to LA just to compete and play hard. We came to win. It may be hard for some people to accept, but that's life."

The Lakers and their overconfident fans know that now.

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