Originally created 04/16/04

Can Lakers win again?

For Phil Jackson, this could be the perfect playoffs.

If the stars align and the earth rotates right, he can humiliate Jeff Van Gundy in the first round, de-deify Jerry West in the second round and torment Sacramento, Dallas or Minnesota in the conference finals.

And then it could really get good.

For Act IV, he'd break Red Auerbach's record of nine NBA championships by outwitting Larry Brown, Larry Bird or Larry Frank.

Nothing could compare - except maybe an urt for two in Katmandu with the lovely Jeanie Buss at his side.

Or maybe being the first $10 million-a-year NBA coach and trucking his triangle offense to a new NBA city, a place where the daily dispositions of Kobe, Shaq, et al, could be slotted safely in his past.

Jackson will be free to take his act elsewhere this summer because his agent, Todd Musberger, and Lakers owner Jerry Buss (Jeanie's dad) broke off negotiations on a contract extension earlier this season, right around the time Bryant was publicly professing his dislike for the so-called Zen Master.

Of course, that came after Bryant opened the season by ripping O'Neal as "childlike," "unprofessional," "selfish," "fat" and "jealous," then closed it by hitting two spectacular 3-point shots against Portland that gave the Lakers the Pacific Division title.

Jackson was still stunned by the latest turn of events as he spoke with reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday.

"It was a roller coaster ride to say the least," Jackson said. "And here we are. We'd sure like to have another 24 hours at least to get our players healthy and prepared."

The Lakers will begin their series against Houston on Saturday, one of four games scheduled that day along with Indiana-Boston, New York-New Jersey and San Antonio-Memphis.

Sunday's Game 1s are Milwaukee-Detroit, Dallas-Sacramento, New Orleans-Miami and Denver-Minnesota.

Jackson exited the postseason with a similar feeling almost a year ago after the Lakers were eliminated 4-2 by San Antonio in the second round, ending their string of three consecutive championships.

Back then, Auerbach publicly questioned whether a run of three straight titles constitutes a dynasty or could compare to his own run of eight straight championships with the Boston Celtics from 1959-66.

"I am not surprised at Red's comments," Jackson said at the time. "I just hope, when I get to be his age, someone will pull a cigar from my mouth and insert an oxygen tube to breathe and think clearly."

Nothing nearly that confrontational came out of Jackson's mouth Thursday in looking ahead to the playoffs.

Don't count on him staying reserved, however, if any of his pet peeves - Van Gundy straying onto the court, Kings fans clanging cowbells in his ears, West cozying up to Kobe - resurface in the upcoming weeks.


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