Originally created 06/11/02

Lakers and Nets take a day off



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Phil Jackson accidentally referred to team owner Jerry Buss as Jerry Krause on Monday, an indication of how easy it is for the Los Angeles Lakers to let their minds wander.

With a 3-0 lead over the New Jersey Nets in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, the Lakers need to have their heads on straight for only 48 more minutes to win their third consecutive title.

In the meantime, they can ponder the bigger questions:

How will history rate them, and what should they call themselves? The Zen Dynasty?

What inscription should they put on their championship rings, and how can they possibly do better than last year's choice of "Bling-bling"?

What retro jersey should Kobe wear to the championship parade?

"I've been in this situation before, and it's very difficult to keep a team focused," Jackson said. "They forget about the fact they have to win."

Game 4 is Wednesday night, and both teams decided not to practice Monday on a warm, summerlike day. If form holds, both teams will begin their summer vacations for real on Thursday.

All it will take is one more victory by the Lakers.

"It's hard to say you can come back from 3-0, but you really can't think about the 3-0 deficit. You can only think about Game 4," Nets guard Jason Kidd said. "It would be nice to get one on the board."

There wasn't a lot of bold talk coming from the Nets, who are well aware that no NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Not in the second round, the conference finals or the finals. Never.

New Jersey's best chance has already come and gone, and it seems nothing can prevent the Nets from taking their rightful place alongside Mike Tyson, War Emblem and the French World Cup team.

The Nets played their best game of the series Sunday night and still lost, 106-103. About the only thing they have left to play for is pride, trying to avoid becoming the seventh team in NBA history to be swept in the finals.

The last time a team had a 3-0 lead in the finals was in 1996, and Jackson was there.

That was the year the Chicago Bulls won a record 72 games but squandered a chance to be remembered as the greatest team in NBA history. The Bulls lost Games 4 and 5 in Seattle before returning home to finish off the SuperSonics in Game 6.

That memory remains vivid for Jackson, which could help explain why he uttered the name of his old nemesis while answering a question about whether he plans to retire when his contract expires in two years.

"I have not said two years is it," Jackson said. "I want to fulfill my contract, and my first obligation is to try and do that. It's a responsibility I owe to Jerry Krause. At that time, I'd like to think the next step over."

Realizing his faux pas, Jackson grinned as he corrected himself - explaining that he meant to say "Buss," not his ex-boss with the Bulls.

The Lakers' victory in Game 3 moved Jackson into a tie with Pat Riley for most career postseason coaching wins - 155.

The next victory will tie him with Red Auerbach for most championships - nine.

"I expect a cigar. Not lit, hopefully," Jackson said.

With an afternoon off, the Lakers planned to relax.

Samaki Walker was trying to decide whether to go shopping in Harlem or SoHo. Lindsey Hunter was wondering which pay-per-view movie he'd get while awaiting his wife's arrival. Kobe Bryant was trying to figure out why Philadelphia Mayor John Street had invited him to a meeting. (Private booing session, perhaps?).

Bryant had a breakout game Sunday night with 36 points, making a clutch 10-footer with 19.1 seconds left to give Los Angeles a four-point lead.

It was a performance right up there with the defining moments of Bryant's career - Game 4 against Indiana in the 2000 finals, Game 3 against the 76ers a year ago, the All-Star game in Philly earlier this year - and put the 23-year-old star on the verge of winning his third championship.

By the time Bryant reaches the age at which Michael Jordan won his first title - 29 - he may be running out of fingers on which to display his rings.

Bryant and O'Neal are already regarded as one of the greatest pair of teammates in NBA history.

"After this year, they have to be considered pretty close to the top," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "You look at Michael and Scottie, Magic and Kareem, but these two guys are definitely somewhere in there.

"You can't compare eras, and you have to respect those who came before us, but Shaq and Kobe - man, they're something."



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