On a Role The stars on the Pacers and the Lakers will take their turns in the spotlight, but a pair of supporting characters should have an impact on how the Finals unfold

June 11, 2000

Spend a postseason in Los Angeles, where half of Hollywood sits
courtside at the Staples Center for Lakers games, and before you
know it, what you'll really want to do is direct. Fade in: A
wide shot just before the tip-off of the NBA Finals between the
Lakers and the Indiana Pacers. The camera pans slowly across the
court, introducing the central characters. Shaquille O'Neal and
Reggie Miller, both self-proclaimed men of steel, peel off
Superman T-shirts. Kobe Bryant dribbles absentmindedly, but
then, he doesn't have to do much; he has so much charisma that
the camera can't help but zoom in on him. Pacers forward Jalen
Rose, eager and confident, struts into the frame, ready to steal
the scene.

There is so much star power at the center of the shot that it's
easy to miss what's happening on the periphery, which is where
two more of the Finals' important characters, Lakers small
forward Glen Rice and Pacers power forward Dale Davis, tend to
operate. Their roles--the marksman and the muscle,
respectively--could not be more different, nor in some ways,
more alike. They are both stone-faced specialists who, when they
do their jobs well, complement perfectly their team's main
attractions. Without a strong performance from the 6'11" Davis,
Indiana's only accomplished rebounder and best interior
defender, the perimeter production of Miller and Rose wouldn't
have been enough to get the Pacers out of the first round of the
playoffs, much less propel them past the New York Knicks in the
Eastern Conference finals. When the 6'8" Rice, one of the
league's best long-range shooters, is misfiring (or, as is often
the case, not pulling the trigger at all), the Lakers tend to
lean so heavily on O'Neal and Bryant that they sometimes topple
over, as they nearly did in their heart-stopping,
back-from-the-dead 89-84 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers
in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.

Scoring 11 points, Rice was only intermittently effective in
that game, just as he has been ever since he came to L.A. in a
trade with the Charlotte Hornets, for swingman Eddie Jones and
power forward Elden Campbell, in March 1999. That the Lakers
nonetheless erased a 15-point, fourth-quarter Blazers lead with
one of the more stirring comebacks in recent memory is
instructive: When Rice, 33, shoots like the All-Star he once
was, Los Angeles is close to invincible; through Sunday, in
playoff games when he scored 18 or more, L.A.'s average margin
of victory was 15.3 points. On nights when Rice is off target or
missing in action, the Lakers, though they may still prevail,
often throw a bigger scare into their fans than Jack Nicholson
did in The Shining.

The Pacers can't afford to have Davis, 31, similarly vanish
against the Lakers. If he duplicates or surpasses his
performance in the conference finals, when he grabbed 16
rebounds in four of the six games and averaged 13.5 overall,
Indiana could make it a tight series. Anything less, and the
Lakers will turn the Finals into a formality.

It was symbolic that after Miller finished off the Knicks last
Friday with a 17-point fourth quarter in Game 6, he was
triumphantly carried off the Madison Square Garden court on
Davis's broad back. "If you look at some of those threes Reggie
made, or the big baskets from other guys in this series and
throughout the season, you'll see that a lot of them came off
second or third opportunities from a Dale Davis rebound,"
Indiana point guard Mark Jackson says. "A lot of what we do
would be impossible if we didn't have Dale going to work on the
inside."

Davis didn't go to work against New York, he went to war.
"Before the series a friend gave me a couple of camouflage
shirts with a hat to match and a SWAT team cap," he says. To put
himself in the proper frame of mind, Davis wore one of the hats
to each practice and wore the shirt underneath his warmups
before each game. "It's not a real war, but you have to approach
it like it is," he says. Heading into Game 1 of the Finals, on
Wednesday in L.A., the 230-pound Davis should have upgraded his
battle gear to a flak jacket and helmet because he will be
called upon to guard the 7'1", 325-pound O'Neal whenever Indiana
center Rik Smits needs a rest or gets into foul trouble, which
he often does shortly after the national anthem.

Indiana may have been encouraged by seeing how well Portland
contained O'Neal with double and triple teams throughout the
series, especially in Game 7, when he was limited to nine shots
and 18 points. But the Pacers can study tape of that game until
they're bleary-eyed and still have trouble matching the Blazers'
success. Portland bottled up the Lakers by sending tall,
long-armed defenders such as Scottie Pippen and Rasheed Wallace
to help O'Neal's primary defender, either Arvydas Sabonis or
Brian Grant. Indiana has no such multitude of athletic big men
to support Smits and Davis, and the ones they do have, Sam
Perkins and Austin Croshere, aren't quick enough to swarm Shaq
in the post then race out to contest jumpers from the perimeter,
as the Blazers' did. "Portland can do things defensively against
us that no other team can hope to duplicate," says Lakers coach
Phil Jackson.

Indiana will try to use Smits's outside shooting touch to lure
O'Neal away from the basket, just as Portland did with Sabonis.
But O'Neal wasn't overly taxed by Sabonis and isn't likely to be
exhausted by guarding Smits, either, who was mostly ineffective
against the Knicks. The Pacers will also find that some of their
favorite methods of attack against New York won't be available
to them against L.A. Mark Jackson won't steamroller Ron Harper
and backup Brian Shaw, both 6'6", on his way to the basket for
short jump hooks the way he did 6'2" Charlie Ward and 6'1" Chris
Childs. Miller will have a more difficult time losing Bryant,
one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, than he did
Allan Houston. One matchup Indiana will likely try to take
advantage of is the versatile Rose against Rice, who plays
mediocre defense. If Rose can beat Rice off the dribble or shoot
over him in the low post, it will force the Lakers to adjust.
Otherwise, there may not be a single Pacer the Lakers will feel
the need to double-team.

The Pacers, on the other hand, will have to double O'Neal
constantly, which is where Rice comes in--or where the Lakers
would like to see him step up. Since arriving in Los Angeles
with a career average of 17.4 points, he has been bafflingly
inconsistent. Part of the reason is that he is the third option
in the offense instead of the primary one, as he was in
Charlotte and with the Miami Heat, his first NBA team. Rice
averaged 12.3 field goal attempts this season, as opposed to
16.9 in his last full season in Charlotte. But that doesn't
explain why he isn't burying more of the shots that he is
getting. In his two seasons with the Lakers he has the two
lowest shooting percentages of his career--43.2 in 1998-99 and
43.0 this season--and he entered the Finals hitting just 41.0%
on 10.1 attempts per game in the postseason. Rice is the kind of
shooter whose accuracy declines when he doesn't get a steady
diet of shots, and his opportunities now arise at such irregular
intervals that he appears to be almost surprised when he has an
open jumper.

Also, Rice has had more difficulty adapting to the triangle
offense of Phil Jackson and assistant Tex Winter than any other
Laker. Instead of having the ball in his hands and screens set
for him, Rice has had to cut and move to open spots. "The
problem has been his inability to play without the basketball,"
says Winter. "He hasn't done a lot of that in his career."

Rice is like a flashing red light on the L.A. dashboard: The
Lakers know that something under the hood isn't working quite
right, but as long as the car keeps running, they're not going
to worry much about it. "We've seen what Glen can do when he
gets it going," says point guard Derek Fisher. "We know that if
we need a big game or a big bucket from him, he'll be there."

Rice was there in Game 4 of the Blazers series. After the
Lakers had played a poor first half that left them five points
down, Rice started the second half with a three-point play on a
drive to the basket. He scored nine more points in the quarter
on his way to his postseason high of 21, and Los Angeles rallied
for a 103-91 win. But Rice disappeared just as suddenly in Game
5, with four points on 1-of-8 shooting. To see his Lakers career
in a nutshell, look at his Game 7 performance: Rice started
aggressively, setting up Harper for a jump shot and then hitting
a three for L.A.'s second basket; he drifted out of sight after
that, going scoreless for more than 17 minutes.

Rice will be reminded of what he was capable of in Charlotte
when he sees the Pacers set up a slalom course of screens to
free Miller. While Rice admits to being frustrated by the
limited number of touches he gets in the Lakers' attack, he
ducks inquiries about why more plays aren't run for him. "That's
a loaded question," he says. "If I answer that, it could get me
in trouble. I just have to be ready when the ball is kicked out
to me. That's my job."

How well Rice and Davis perform their specialized tasks may not
decide which team wins the series, but it could determine how
close the series will be. In part because you can expect Davis
to have the more commanding presence of the two, look for the
Pacers to extend the Lakers to six games--before their
championship hopes fade to black.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH COVER Survivors! Portland couldn't finish off Kobe & Co. Can Indiana? COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MANNY MILLAN Miller's Tale Reggie was not about to let Larry Johnson and the Knicks deny him his first Finals appearance, but he faces a more daunting task in L.A.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Double duty The board work of Davis (left) gives Indiana a chance, while a high-scoring Rice would ease the Lakers' load. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [See caption above]

Other than Rose, there may not be a single Pacer the Lakers
feel the need to double-team.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)