Thursday , Dec , 11 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

Will anyone be able to beat the Lakers?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Barring any major injuries, it looks
right now that the Los Angeles Lakers are headed towards their fourth NBA
crown in the last five seasons.

It’s pretty scary to say a team is going to win the NBA title only 21 games
into its season. Especially when there is some tough competition in the
Western Conference.

The Lakers (18-3) improved to a perfect 12-0 at home on the season when they
defeated the New York Knicks, 98-90, on Tuesday. With the win, LA, which has
also won 10 in a row, extended its home winning streak to 27 games, dating
back to last season. The Lakers are three victories shy of the club record for
consecutive victories at home. They ran off 30 straight wins as the host
twice, both while the team called Minneapolis home, with the last time coming
during the 1950-51 campaign.

The “Big Four” continued to carry the Lakers on Tuesday, as Kobe Bryant posted
21 points and nine assists, Shaquille O’Neal registered 18 points and 15
rebounds, Karl Malone chipped in 20 points and Gary Payton netted 17 in the

“I thought that we played a really solid second half,” Lakers coach Phil
Jackson said after the win over New York. “We had a little trouble converting
and shooting the ball. A lot of guys were hesitant about shooting the ball
and we managed to sustain that lead even though it wasn’t a comfortable one.”

I know the fans in Sacramento, San Antonio and Dallas are not going to like
this, but the Lakers look unstoppable. And I am not saying that based on a win
over New York.

Please note, the Lakers have already defeated Dallas and San Antonio twice
this season, and also knocked off the Pistons and Pacers.

Malone, 40, and the 35-year-old Payton, both of whom signed as free agents
with LA in the offseason, came to the right place to win their first NBA
championship. The two veterans have fit in well with Shaq and Kobe and both
seem to understand what is needed of them in order for LA to win.

When Malone left Utah after 18 seasons with the Jazz and signed with the
Lakers, questions as to whether he would be able to adapt to a reduced role
arose. Obviously, he didn’t go to LA for the money. It was about winning.

With Utah, Malone had been to the NBA Finals twice, losing both times to
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games. The Jazz were ready to
rebuild and Malone was ready to get a ring. That’s why he signed with the
Lakers. As long as a championship is in his destiny, Malone will accept
whatever role is cast upon him.

To put it simply, Malone will do whatever it takes to win and the same can be
said about Payton, who has appeared just once in an NBA championship round.
The former Sonic and Buck, like Malone, also fell to Jordan and the Bulls
while playing for Seattle.

Payton has brought his tenacious defense, point guard skills and leadership to
LA. He is an unselfish player and is the perfect complement to his new
superstar teammates.

The supporting cast consists of forwards Devean George and Stanislav
Medvedenko, and guards Derek Fisher and Bryon Russell. The four are providing
some scoring and defense, which is needed because it would be tough for Shaq,
Kobe, Malone and Payton to beat any NBA team with just four players.

Read between the lines when it comes to the “supporting cast” on the Lakers.
They are just there.

We all know what Shaq and Kobe, who despite his on-going legal problems leads
the Lakers in scoring (21.8 ppg), give the Lakers. Add two future Hall of
Famers with skill, leadership, court savvy and a desire to win a championship
and what else can one say but, wow!

As long as Shaq and Kobe can keep the peace, and Bryant can stay on the
basketball court, another parade in LA is in the near future.