1. Shaq and Kobe will make up--and it won't matter.
On the eve of their first-round playoff series, the Lakers'
feuding superstars will emerge from a meditation session with
coach Phil Jackson. They will announce that they've settled
their differences, scold the media for exaggerating the friction
between them and declare that they want to play together for the
rest of their careers. But stumbling through the regular season
will prove to be their undoing. They won't have home court
advantage in their second-round series against the Kings, who
will eliminate them in Game 7 at deafening ARCO Arena,
immediately after which Kobe will go to G.M. Mitch Kupchak and
ask to be traded.
2. Dick Versace will fire Grizzlies coach Sidney Lowe and
Lowe and Versace, the team president, have clashed on several
issues, especially the handling of rookie forward Stromile
Swift. Versace wants Swift to get more playing time; Lowe feels
he isn't ready for it. Lowe also hasn't been thrilled about
having his two best players, forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim and
point guard Mike Bibby, on the trading block. Expect Versace,
who coached the Pacers in 1989-90 and '90-91, to replace Lowe
with someone he's sure to agree with.
3. Jerry Krause will be ousted.
In the wake of an unproductive draft--Chicago's top two pickups,
forward Marcus Fizer and guard Jamal Crawford, weren't even
selected for the rookie game during All-Star weekend--and last
summer's failure to sign any of the leading free agents, Bulls
chairman Jerry Reinsdorf will give Krause one more chance to
significantly upgrade the team this summer. When he fails,
Reinsdorf will end Krause's 16-year tenure as G.M. and reassign
him within the organization.
4. Jermaine O'Neal will be the East's best big man in the second
You can almost see the rough edges getting smoother and smoother
on O'Neal, 22, who looks like this season's Tracy McGrady--an
abundantly talented young player on the brink of stardom.
O'Neal's solid numbers (13.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.57
blocked shots at week's end) will be even better after the
break. Next year, they'll be spectacular.
5. The Trail Blazers will beat the 76ers in the Finals.
It will be 1977 all over again as Portland takes out
Philadelphia in six games. Coach Mike Dunleavy's loosening of
the reins has been exactly what the Blazers needed, and this
postseason they won't get a case of nerves when they reach the
conference championship. Allen Iverson and a tough defense will
get the Sixers past the Bucks for the Eastern Conference title,
but Philadelphia will be overmatched against Portland's depth
and versatility in the Finals.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Bryant's power struggle will come back to haunt him in the playoffs.