Barkley hardly bullish on Lakers


Maybe what the Los Angeles Lakers need is a little incentive as they play their final three regular-season games and head into the NBA playoffs seeded No. 7 or No. 8 in the Western Conference.

Maybe what they need is for someone of a certain prominence to say they have no shot at going very far in the playoffs and give them a "we'll-show-you" attitude.

Who better to do that than TNT commentator and new Hall of Fame member Charles Barkley? He was more than happy to oblige in a phone conversation yesterday from Atlanta, where he was preparing for that night's Inside the NBA studio show.

The first question: If the Lakers somehow beat the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, could they possibly go any farther? Barkley said it's possible for the Lakers to beat the Suns, but added, "That's as far as they could go. They'd [probably] be playing San Antonio or Dallas in the second round.

"And in the playoffs, you're going up against a good team for a week. Kobe [Bryant] would have to be spectacular every night, and I don't think he can do that in a seven-game series."

So what's wrong with the Lakers? "They're lacking in a lot of areas, to be honest," Barkley said.

Are they a player or two away from again being a championship contender? "Yeah, if those players are Magic [Johnson] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]," he said.

"We're talking about [possibly] a No. 8 seed. A No. 8 seed is a long way from being a championship contender."

Barkley is higher on the Clippers.

He recently said on the air: "If Tim Duncan [who has been bothered most of the season with swelling in his right foot] is not healthy, then anybody can win the West. The Los Angeles Clippers can win the West."

He also called the Clippers his sleeper team in the West.

"Sam Cassell gives them a swagger, Elton Brand is one of the top 10 players in the world," he said. "The advantage they have is, you don't fear Dallas, you don't fear Phoenix."

Even though the Clippers lost three games in a row before beating Portland on Wednesday night, Barkley said yesterday that he still likes the Clippers.

"They're going to surprise some people just how tough they are," he said.

Barkley also said he likes San Antonio and Detroit advancing to the Finals.

"There's no chance of Detroit not winning the East," he said.

And he likes the Pistons winning it all.

"It's their balance," he said, "And it's also because Tim Duncan is not healthy."

The NBA is exploring changes in the seeding system for the playoffs next season, and Barkley is a big advocate of that.

"We'll probably have San Antonio and Dallas playing in the second round, and they have the two best records in the West," he said. "They should be facing each other in the conference finals."

The regular season ends Wednesday, and the playoffs begin the following weekend. TNT will televise as many as 40 playoffs games over 40 nights, and ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 combined will have as many as 44.

Every game will be televised in high definition.

This year, TNT has the Western Conference finals and ABC and ESPN the Eastern Conference finals. The NBA Finals will be on ABC.

Larry Stewart writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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