Weakest Link Is Hurting the 76ers

Paul Westphal, coach of the Pepperdine basketball team and a former NBA all-star and coach of the Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics, will analyze the NBA Finals for The Times, as told to Helene Elliott

Because of the dominance of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, and the overall versatility of the Lakers' defense, Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown is faced with juggling different combinations in order to try to get to the last three minutes and give his team a chance to win. Philadelphia just tries to do everything it can to get to the last three minutes: It worked once in two games, and that's once more than a lot of people thought it would.

Strategically, these teams have been answering each other's advantages quickly and effectively. It seems one team makes an adjustment and the other has an answer.

I think the key strategic point to Friday's game was the Lakers scored almost every time Philadelphia doubled Shaq. It's difficult for Philadelphia when Dikembe Mutombo is out of the game. It forces the 76ers to double Shaq because they have nobody else who can defend him straight up.

Derek Fisher played more than he did in Game 1, as did Brian Shaw and Ron Harper. The 76ers used Todd MacCulloch and Matt Geiger and sometimes Jumaine Jones to combat the Lakers' quickness when Robert Horry played the power forward slot. The problem is the Lakers' pressure allows them to double-team Allen Iverson and the 76ers have to find a way to score. MacCulloch helps offensively, but defensively he's not quick enough.

The last six minutes Brown played four guards and Mutombo, like he did in Game 1, and this time the Lakers countered differently. Instead of a conventional lineup, they went with four guards and Shaq. It worked. It was the 76ers who made the mistakes.

On a key play, after the 76ers had come within three, Iverson doubled Shaq and left Fisher open, who made a three-point basket. Why? Shaq probably didn't even know Iverson was there. I'm sure Brown was asking the same question.

The Lakers are going to play their game. They have two players Philadelphia must contend with, Shaq and Kobe. Still, Philadelphia's has to be feeling good--if they made their free throws and didn't try to double Shaq with Iverson, they could have gone home up, 2-0.

I'm sure the 76ers are counting on getting an emotional lift at home, but I think it's going to get more difficult for them to score. Unless Iverson scores at least 40 every game, I don't think they're going to beat the Lakers. And he might need 50 a few times.

Eric Snow and Aaron McKie are good players, but McKie is more of a one-on-one player than Snow. It won't come down to those guys. The Lakers are always going to leave the fifth guy open. It's either MacCulloch, Geiger, Tyrone Hill, Jones or Raja Bell. No matter which one it is, it's a drawback the 76ers have to overcome.

MacCulloch has the best feel for scoring, but he has trouble defensively. Hill has trouble creating shots. Bell and Jones are inexperienced. The 76ers are always struggling with that fifth position and that's going to make it difficult for them.

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