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Can the Kings cloud the Lakers' repeat forecast?
California Dreamin'
By Bernie Bickerstaff analyst Bernie Bickerstaff previews the Western Conference Semifinal series between the Lakers and the Kings.

Three Things for the Lakers:
  • Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have to create easy opportunities for their teammates
  • Must defend the perimeter and contain the creativity of the Kings off the dribble
  • Need to shoot consistently outside and get the long rebounds to keep the Kings out of the offensive open court

    Three Things for Sacramento:
  • Need to hit early from the perimeter to force defensive respect -- this will create opportunities off the dribble
  • Have to use the open court and run
  • Don't allow Bryant and O'Neal to make their teammates better -- let them get their points, but no one else

    Marquee Matchup: Derek Fisher vs. Bobby Jackson
    Both Jackson and Jason Williams will be matched up against Fisher, but Jackson is stronger defensively and will have the assignment of stopping Fisher. I think Fisher has been a big part of the difference in the Lakers' late-season success this year. He has to continue to do what he's done. He's been phenomenal in terms of taking care of the basketball and making shots. Fisher's had no turnovers in the playoffs and is a strong defensive presence. If Jackson can disrupt Fisher, it could trickle down to the rest of the Lakers.

    Los Angeles' Offensive Approach:
    O'Neal and Bryant are the easy answers on offense, but now they're not the only answers. They create opportunities for their teammates and it helps if the outside shooting is hot. But their perimeter shooting in the first round, other than Fisher, has been inconsistent. Rick Fox was shooting it one day; Robert Horry has yet to shoot it. But the Lakers are pretty good at finding the hot hand and getting him the basketball. This takes a lot of pressure off O'Neal and Bryant.

    O'Neal and Bryant are doing what you would want them to do at this point in the season. They create opportunities for their teammates by being very unselfish and sharing the basketball. Still with all eyes on them, the fate of the Lakers still probably rests in the hands of a role player stepping up.

    Sacramento's Offensive Approach:
    All sorts of different players contributed in the first-round series against the Suns and that will probably happen against the Lakers as well. Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic will be the go-to guys, but watch for a screen-and-role with Doug Christie and Vlade Divac. This will get the matchups involved with O'Neal and Bryant. Divac will stay within the 15-foot range and O'Neal will follow him up there. Divac then has the option of shooting or taking O'Neal off the dribble.

    I think the spacing of the Kings' offense is important forcing the Lakers to respect Sacramento's perimeter shooting. The Kings are not an inside basketball team so they've got to use their three-point shooting skills to be able to space the floor and to get inside opportunities off of the dribble and create easy baskets for their teammates. They also have to get out into the open court.

    Poised for a big series:
    Horace Grant opened the playoffs with a 14-point, eight-rebound game against the Blazers after a relatively quiet regular season. He is a tremendous asset to the Lakers. He does his job every night and understands his role. He makes the open shots, he rebounds and he's consistent enough so that the Lakers can count on him. He'll also probably match up against Webber and if he can force Webber to respect him offensively, that pulls Webber away from double-teaming O'Neal.

    Intriguing subplots:
    Lakers head coach Phil Jackson picked up right where he left off last year, sniping at Sacramento with his comments by suggesting the Kings had a little too much fun in celebrating their first-round win over the Suns. Jackson's remarks during the 2000 playoffs about Sacramento being a "cow town" earned him the sound of cow bells every time the Lakers have played in Arco Arena this year. We'll see what the Sacramento faithful do in response to this latest jibe.

    I'm taking the Lakers if they can stop the Kings' transition game. Sacramento lacks an inside presence and I just don't think the Kings have anybody that can do anything with O'Neal. I think the Lakers are probably a little more physical than Sacramento. And I don't think the Kings can continue to dig holes for themselves and then surmount them against the Lakers, as they did against the Suns.

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