Laker Express Picking Up Speed Again

WASHINGTON POST

The 76ers found out in Game 4 what it felt like to be Portland and Sacramento and San Antonio. They found out what it felt like to be dunked on, get their shots blocked, be overwhelmed on the boards, have their spirit totally extinguished. The Los Angeles Lakers played Wednesday night with great purpose, perhaps even anger.

There was one stretch in the first half in which the Lakers attacked for eight straight baskets inside of three feet, five of them dunks.

No amount of noise or energy or heat inside of First Union Center, which felt like a greenhouse, could deter them from their first dominant performance of the NBA Finals.

For all the praise we've heaped on the 76ers for playing with great determination and spirit, the fact is the Lakers are one blown five-point overtime lead away from having swept the NBA Finals, just as they swept the Trail Blazers, Kings and Spurs.

Perfection is no longer within the Lakers' grasp because they lost Game 1, but a second consecutive championship is there for the taking Friday night, and if not in Philadelphia then back in Los Angeles next week.

Probably, it will come sooner than later because the 76ers are injured and worn down while the Lakers have rediscovered how great they are when Shaq and Kobe are atop their games and the role players are going efficiently about their business. Allen Iverson is like a windup toy whose key just won't turn again. Shaq and Kobe, having found their stride in mid-April, have found a second wind.

Larry Brown admitted as much about his team when he said, "I think we've gotten mentally tougher from the tough games. But physically, it might have been a factor with some of the problems we're having in fatigue."

And the Lakers sense an opponent's fatigue the way a shark senses blood. Especially Shaquille O'Neal. By halftime he had 20 points and 11 rebounds. He talked big talk Sunday and Monday when he called out Dikembe Mutombo. But Wednesday, with Philly needing a victory to keep the series competitive, Shaq backed it all up, every word of it.

Shaq finished with 34 points. Kobe finished one assist short of reaching a triple-double. The Lakers hit 10 of 19 threes, making life a little easier for Shaq. You see the Lakers play like they did in Game 4, you wonder how they blew that overtime lead in Game 1, blowing that chance at perfection.

Anway, it's 22 victories in 23 games now. They need one more victory and anybody who doubts they'll get it couldn't possibly be paying attention.

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