Western Conference semifinal


No. 2 Seattle (61-21) vs. No. 3 L.A. Lakers (61-21)

Season series: Seattle won, 3-1.

Key players: Seattle -- Gary Payton (26.0 ppg, 5.6 apg in playoffs); Vin Baker (14.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg); Hersey Hawkins (15.8 ,, ppg). Los Angeles -- Shaquille O'Neal (29.0 ppg, 11.8 rpg); Nick Van Exel (8.8 ppg, 3.3 apg), Kobe Bryant (11.3 ppg).

Key matchup: Van Exel vs. Payton. Van Exel comes off the bench, but he likely will get the most minutes against Payton, the league's top defensive point guard.

What the Sonics have to do to win: If Seattle is unable to contain O'Neal, it has to do a good job of containing everyone else. That shouldn't be a problem for a team that does a great job in rotating defensively.

What the Lakers have to do to win: First, get a total team effort. Van Exel also needs to be on his game offensively and Bryant, who played under control against the Trail Blazers in the opening round, can't get into a position in which he believes he has to do it all by himself.

Prediction: Seattle in six.

Pub Date: 5/04/98

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