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Knicks' Rally Leaves Heat Mourning

Eastern Conference: Miami center bemoans foul trouble, but New York exploits it to win.


MIAMI — All you Knicks and Heaters who are ready to rumble, take a step forward.

Not so fast, Alonzo.

The long-awaited series opened Wednesday night, but Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning watched much of it from the bench, where he had a good view of the 22-3 run that sent New York to an 88-79 victory and a 1-0 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal blood feud.

Mourning, who plays a manly game, ran into some hair-trigger referees, not to mention the usual number of Knicks, and started accumulating fouls as fast as the officials could puff.

He played only 18 of the 36 minutes in the first three quarters. The Heat endured until the end of the third period when Mourning was whistled for his fourth foul, a push-off on an offensive rebound.

He held out his hands in one of his operatic gestures, which the referees, as usual, ignored. After Mourning's third foul--for bumping a Knick away from the ball--he held his hands to the sky. That didn't work, either.

Mourning left. The Knicks, who had just cut a 52-44 Heat lead to 52-48, ran off another 18 points in the last 4:34 and turned a hammer-and-tongs defensive struggle into a game of catch-up in which the Heat never caught up.

"By both teams going into the series with a reputation of being two very physical teams," Mourning said later, "you would think that the referees would go into the game making adjustments . . . I guess they wanted to get control of the game from the start."

Actually, you might not have thought the referees would make any adjustments to accommodate physical play.

Commissioner David Stern attended, along with Rod Thorn, the league vice president who hands out fines. This suggested the league was making sure everyone behaved, as opposed to re-enacting that 1994 Knick-Chicago Bulls playoff when Derek Harper and Jo Jo Hunter started a fight that engulfed courtside fans and almost rolled onto the feet of Stern, sitting two rows back. This matchup posed no less potential for trouble. The Knicks, deserted by Pat Riley, hate the Heat and vice versa.

The Knicks won the season series, 3-1. After their last victory here in April, Herb Williams told Tim Hardaway, "We'll be back down here in two weeks to kick your butts again."

Said the Knicks' Chris Childs after the teams advanced past their first-round opponents, bringing them nose-to-nose: "It's a classic matchup. None of that high-flying stuff. It's going to be knock-down, drag-out basketball, the way we like it, the way they like it . . . Bring your shoulder pads, helmets, guns, knives. You'll need them to survive a series like this."

No, the referees, veterans Hugh Evans, Bennett Salvatore and Don Vaden, didn't figure to let them play Wednesday.

For the Heat, problems are springing up all over. Hardaway went cold in the Orlando series that looked like a rout and became a nightmare before they snuffed out the last Magic rally in Game 5. Mourning, a 64% free-throw shooter during the season, dropped below 50%.

Hardaway played well but Mourning missed seven of 13 free throws.

Also, the Knicks, 4-0, in this postseason, look very different from the ragtag outfit that lost six of seven at home in late March and early April. Allan Houston, who shot 55% and averaged 19 points against the Hornets in the first round, scored 27 points.

"The one thing I really admire about Miami," said Knick Coach Jeff Van Gundy, "is they came every night. I thought in a two-to-three-week period, we let the monotony of the season get to us. And in big games we still played well, but in games against lesser opponents, we did not play up to our capabilities.

"By that time of the season, we knew we had a good team. We didn't know if we could make the next step to be a great team and the playoffs will prove either way whether we can be a great team this year or not."

As if the Heat didn't have enough problems, try this for an omen: Riley will be named coach of the year at a press conference today. The first time he won the award, as a Laker in 1990, the ceremony was scheduled after Game 4 of the second-round series against the Suns.

Who knew the Suns would be up, 3-1, by that time?

Of course, this series has only begun, but it already isn't the way the Heat pictured it.

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