Originally created 04/30/01

Lakers 99, Trail Blazers 86



PORTLAND, Ore. -- It's difficult to believe that, at one time this season, the Los Angeles Lakers actually feared the Portland Trail Blazers.

Shaquille O'Neal had 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant added 22 points as the Lakers completed a three-game sweep of the Trail Blazers with a 99-86 victory on Sunday.

The Lakers, who began their drive to repeat as champions by winning the final eight games of the regular season, will play the Sacramento-Phoenix winner in the second round.

Portland, meanwhile, lost for the sixth straight time and 17th time in 25 games. The team with the highest payroll in NBA history - $89.7 million - faces an offseason of uncertainty. Coach Mike Dunleavy could be fired, some players could be traded, and even general manager Bob Whitsitt's job isn't safe.

Damon Stoudamire and Steve Smith each scored 25 points for the Blazers, and Rasheed Wallace had 13 rebounds but was a major disappointment on offense, missing 15 of 19 shots.

The Lakers beat the Blazers the same way they did the first two games - by getting the ball to O'Neal, although he didn't see it much early on. O'Neal had just two shots in the first quarter - nine fewer than Bryant - and three rebounds.

O'Neal returned to dominance in the second half, however, and the Blazers - without suspended Dale Davis and Stacey Augmon - couldn't handle him.

A hook shot by Arvydas Sabonis a minute into the fourth quarter got Portland within 79-74, but O'Neal made two straight hooks to push the lead to nine. The Blazers missed six of their first seven shots and started to hear boos from the Rose Garden crowd.

Derek Fisher's 3-pointer made it 87-74 with 9:01 left. O'Neal, who in his recent biography said he "owns" the 7-foot-3 Sabonis, provided the icing with a dunk that bounced off Sabonis' head.

Bryant added a playoff career-high nine assists, and Fisher had 17 points.

Davis was suspended for throwing an elbow at the Lakers' Robert Horry in Game 2, and Augmon was punished for coming off the bench during the altercation.

The Lakers kept Portland from reaching the NBA finals last year by rallying from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win Game 7 of the conference finals. But the Blazers took two of four games from L.A. in the regular season, and until their slump, Portland seemed a good match for the Lakers.

The Blazers led early Sunday, and Stoudamire scored eight points in the first 41/2 minutes of the second quarter to boost the Blazers' lead to six, but the Lakers started getting O'Neal the ball.

His first strong move came when he got the ball deep against Sabonis, spun away from Wallace's double-team and emphatically dunked over Sabonis.

Bryant hit three straight shots to ignite a 9-0 run, and two free throws by Fisher just before halftime gave the Lakers a 54-47 lead.

Portland got within 67-66 on an open 3-pointer by Smith, but the Lakers pulled away to take a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter.

As in Game 2, the Blazers built an early lead, only to give away the momentum on a last-second shot at the end of the first quarter.

Led by an unusually aggressive Smith, the Blazers attacked the basket, making 7-of-7 free throws in the period, compared with 1-of-2 for the Lakers.

After missing 10 of their first 15 shots, the Blazers made four of their next five. A 3-pointer and long jumper from Stoudamire put Portland ahead 26-20.

But with six-tenths of a second left, Brian Shaw inbounded to Devean George, who launched a 25-foot 3-pointer to cut the lead to three.

Notes:

O'Neal was 7-of-10 from the line, and made 21 of 34 free throws in the series for 62 percent, compared with 51 percent during the regular season. ... Fisher had zero turnovers in 114 minutes in the series. ... Portland has been eliminated by the Lakers four of the last five years. ... The Blazers made just 16 of 61 3-pointers in the series.