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EVERYONE, INCLUDING L.A., WORRIES ABOUT THE LAKERS IN THE PLAYOFFS

Everyone around here seems to be concerned about how the Jazz might fare in a first-round playoff series with the Lakers, but there are signs not all is well in La-La Land.

The Lakers have lost three straight and, according to coach Del Harris, haven't played a lick of defense in the process."The only vehicles that keep you functioning once the playoffs begin are defense and rebounding," he said. "We have yet to make a full commitment to defense. We do it on a game-to-game basis. That's not good enough."

The guy taking much of Harris' heat is forward Cedric Ceballos, who was benched briefly in a recent loss to the Spurs at the Forum, after Vinny Del Negro scored 10 of San Antonio's first 14 points. And Ceballos was defending a guard, instead of forward Sean Elliott, because of Harris' conviction that Elliott would light him up.

Afterward, Ceballos praised the Spurs coaching staff, and indirectly slammed Harris, by saying, "That coaching staff lets the players play, they let them be basketball players. That's the most comfortable team in the league because someone isn't always yelling at them, always trying to coach them. They don't feel a need to always get on guys."

STRUCK OUT: Clipper Loy Vaught showed questionable judgment recently when he tried to dunk over San Antonio center David Robinson three times in a seven-minute span. Each time, the Admiral swatted the ball.

Even more embarrassing, Vaught missed the next two games with a hyperextended elbow, suffered while being rejected.

"He got the first one and I was just stubborn," Vaught said. "I kept wanting to get him back and he kept coming out on top."

Robinson's comment: "He's a talented player, but that particular move wasn't, uh, advisable."

LATRELL SPEAKS: Either Latrell Sprewell is stupid, or he thinks we are.

The Golden State infant said this week that it's obvious how coach Don Nelson's moves - namely, the trading of Chris Webber and Billy Owens - destroyed the team.

"You've gotta look at where we were last season (50-32) and where we are right now (24-51)," Sprewell said. "It was a combination of a lot of things, but he has to take a large part of the responsibility."

Somehow, though, the Warriors managed to start the season 5-0 and 7-1, with Owens already in Miami and Webber not playing, waiting to be traded. It wasn't until Webber actually was swapped that Golden State's season ended.

The difference was not Nelson. Sprewell (and perhaps a few others of less renown) made this team fail, to be able to point the finger at Nelson. It was a clear case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

SWAP THEM: Meanwhile, out in Minnesota is a guy who'd like to play for Golden State. Timberwolves' bad boy J.R. Rider, who grew up in Oakland, has said he would love to play for the Warriors, against whom he's had games of 35, 41 and 42 points this season.

The obvious trade is Sprewell for Rider, which would serve them both right. If it happened, though, you'd have to feel for poor Timberwolf Tom Gugliotta, who already escaped from Sprewell once.

HE WANTS IT: Milwaukee's Glenn Robinson thinks he deserves Rookie of the Year honors.

"Grant Hill can be on the Letterman Show or whatever, but when it comes down to it, you've got to bring something to the court. I haven't been doing all that outside stuff, but I've been taking care of business on the court. I shouldn't even be rated among just the rookies because I'm in the top 15 in scoring. I'm up there in scoring with Reggie Miller, Latrell Sprewell and Cliff Robinson, and those are some great players."

PLAYFUL BULLETS: The Bullets may be experiencing a dismal season, but they still know how to have a good time. It seems they got in a food fight on their late-night flight back from Utah a couple of weeks ago, started by Rex Chapman and Kenny Walker, which escalated until jumbo center Gheorghe Muresan got hit in the back of the head with a ham and cheese sandwich and lost his temper. Recently, a source said the Bullets were fined about $15,000 because the plane had to be taken off line and cleaned up before it could complete its next flight.

SHORT STUFF: Dallas' Jason Kidd, after posting his third triple-double: "I don't know if I closed the gap on Grant (Hill), but I hope I made the people who voted for him early feel sick to their stomach."

Mavericks coach Dick Motta, after a five-game stretch in which Roy Tarpley made 10 of 40 shots: "Maybe it's best for him to be in another environment." Like New Jersey.

Miami's John Salley, after a game in which he had zero points, zero rebounds, one turnover in 19 minutes against the Knicks: "I play defense, I box out, my job is to play my man, Patrick Ewing, straight up. I go to block the shots and the next guy gets the rebounds."

Just for the record, Salley had zero blocked shots and Ewing a game-high 31 points.