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Published Sep. 27, 2005

No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 3 Trail Blazers

COACHES: Lakers _ Phil Jackson. Blazers _ Mike Dunleavy.


KEY PLAYERS: Lakers _ Shaquille O'Neal, C (29.8 ppg, 16.8 rpg, 2.6 bpg), Kobe Bryant, G (24.4 ppg), Glen Rice, F (13.9 ppg). Blazers _ Steve Smith, G (16.2 ppg), Scottie Pippen, F (14.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg), Rasheed Wallace, F (13.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Arvydas Sabonis, C (13.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg).

THE WORD: This is the matchup folks have been anxiously awaiting since Day 1 of the season. Both won games on the other's home floor during the regular season and the winner will be a heavy favorite in the NBA Finals.

TO ADVANCE: The Blazers need to get all of their considerable talent involved, especially starting point guard Damon Stoudamire and power forward Brian Grant, both having been noticeably quiet so far. Pippen must use his playoff experience to guide his team. Lakers need consistent play from O'Neal and Bryant, solid defense and rebounding. The Lakers can ill afford injuries or suspensions, especially involving O'Neal and Bryant.

PREDICTION: Blazers in seven.

_ Compiled by Darrell Fry.