Friday, June 1
Abdul-Jabbar likes Lakers' sweep chances
Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remembers the first time the Los Angeles Lakers opened the playoffs with 11 straight wins -- they were swept in the NBA Finals by the Detroit Pistons.

Twelve years later, the current Lakers have become the second team to accomplish such a feat. Abdul-Jabbar looks for a different ending this time.

"They turned it up at the right time," the NBA's all-time leading scorer said this week. "Now, they're set to make their mark in the record books. I think they have a good shot at it."

Should the Lakers sweep the Finals, which begin Wednesday night at Staples Center, they'll become the first team to go through the postseason with a perfect record.

"We swept through the playoffs, only trouble is, we got swept in the Finals," Adbul-Jabbar recalled. "I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to be at our best and compete with the Pistons."

The day before the Finals began, starter Byron Scott injured his left hamstring in a rebounding drill. That took his 20 points per game out of the lineup.

Then, in the third quarter of Game 2, Magic Johnson, considered one of the greatest players in NBA history, suffered the same injury.

No Magic, no Scott, no rings.

Abdul-Jabbar admitted he wondered if Pat Riley's coaching strategy might have had an effect. After sweeping Portland, Seattle and Phoenix, the Lakers had time on their hands, just like this year's team.

So the two-time defending champions traveled some 100 miles north to Santa Barbara to practice, something they had done before.

Longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn referred to the trip this week as "a little boot camp."

"Whether it was too hard or not, he gets the blame," Hearn said of Riley. "If they win the championship, he gets the credit."

Abdul-Jabbar said Hearn raised a valid question.

"Technically, Pat has to take the blame, he had the reins," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He's not responsible for the guys getting hurt, but is it possible that he trained us past the point where guys could make it through the playoffs without getting hurt?

"I'm not throwing stones at Pat, he had to call it as he saw it."

Two assistant coaches from that 1989 team, Bill Bertka and Randy Pfund, quickly came to Riley's defense.

"We were in the Finals in seven of eight years," Pfund said by telephone from Miami, where he is president and general manager of the Heat, the team Riley now coaches. "I'm trying to think at what level you could rationally question what Pat did.

"I think the fact that they were in the Finals so many times speaks for itself," he continued. "You don't take one part of a coaching philosophy and say: `Is it right or wrong?' You take the whole package."

The Lakers had beaten the Boston Celtics 4-2 in the 1987 Finals and Detroit 4-3 the following year to become the first NBA team to repeat as champions since 1969.

"They were shooting for a three-peat, we had to fight the mental mindset of them playing not to lose," said Bertka, who worked for the Lakers from 1968-74 and again as an assistant coach for the last 20 years. "Pat was very aware of the injury situation, we had days off up there. He wanted to avoid any complacency."

Bertka said both Scott and Johnson had a history of hamstring problems; in fact, Johnson had missed playing time that February due to a hamstring injury.

"We went into the playoffs on a roll, which is the way Pat liked it," Bertka said.

Similarly, the current Lakers won their final eight regular-season games, and haven't lost since April 1.

Abdul-Jabbar, who retired following the 1989 season after a 20-year NBA career, was critical of current star center Shaquille O'Neal in an interview a little over two years ago.

No longer.

"He hadn't mastered some of the finer points of the game," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It made them vulnerable. He couldn't play at the end of the game, he couldn't get fouled. It's not the situation now.

"I'm not a big critic of his. At that point, he just wasn't leading the team the way he is now. He's really stepped up in that area. That's one of the most important aspects of the game."

When asked how the current Lakers stacked up with great teams of the past, Abdul-Jabbar replied: "They're the best team in their era of basketball, that's all that counts.

"You can't compare teams from different generations, it doesn't work," he added.

"I'm sure people sit around and wonder how Babe Ruth would have done against Warren Spahn. I think they're just going to have to sit around and keep wondering."

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