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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Is First Round Finished Yet?

April 28, 2002|Mark Heisler

Near as I can remember before play was suspended again to set up NBC's weekend schedule, everything had changed from the end of the season, which was only 10 days ago, even if it seems longer.

Of course, it could have been worse. The Lakers had a three-day layoff, but the San Antonio Spurs went four, or as Coach Gregg Popovich put it, "Game 3 is a month and a half from now."

Speaking for everyone, Popovich also noted it was "a pain in the butt."

The waiting may not be the hardest part, either. Shaquille O'Neal has been looking forward to the playoffs when there are fewer games, but right now, there are a lot fewer--two a week--giving him beaucoup time to rest his sore toe.

Voila! There's a new, energized Shaq, representing good news in Lakerdom and the end of the world throughout the rest of the league.

Phil Jackson is, indeed, upset he has to do 30 minutes of interviews every day, but he can handle it. The shoots for his T.D. Waterhouse commercials were way longer than 30 minutes and he never complained about them.

Even Commissioner David Stern, in his annual Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm-At-The-Playoffs Tour, concedes with this format, "You lose a little momentum."

What Stern can't say is, "This is NBC's last gasp at making back part of its $1.6 billion. Next year the peacock's history and we'll go seven games in the first round. Oh, and by the way, ratings are up 5%. For a big enough ratings bump, I'd play one game a week and go through August."

Meanwhile, to reflect all the changes, how about a postseason rankings update:

Lakers (2-0) Lakers say they have dibs on Trail Blazers in bid to play them in first round every year.

2. Sacramento (2-1) Oops: Team that averaged 112 in April was just overjoyed to get 90 in Delta Center. 3. San Antonio (2-1) Big win, but they'd better get Admiral back on deck for the next round. 4. Dallas (2-0) With all that firepower, darkhorse Mavericks look as scary as anyone right now. This is how it happened.

No. 1 Kings vs. No. 8 Jazz: Unfortunately--for the Kings--they had not only swept the Jazz, 4-0, they'd done it by an average of 22 points.

They sauntered in, almost losing Game 1, when a John Stockton three-point shot went halfway down but spun back out, losing Game 2 decisively, on the court where they'd gone 36-5.

Vlade Divac wrote the Jazz off after Game 1 ("That was their best shot and now they're done") but Utah players barely noticed. They play hard all the time and don't have to scout around for reasons to be motivated.

"If that stuff excites you," Coach Jerry Sloan said. "it's a pretty weak commentary on what the game is all about."

In the test of their young lives, the Kings won Game 3 in the Delta Center, so at least, they know they'll see Arco Arena again.

No. 2 Spurs vs. No. 7 SuperSonics: This looked like the one-sided series everyone predicted ... for eight minutes, which is how long David Robinson played in Game 1 before his back, which he had rested for a week, went out again.

The Spurs blitzed the SuperSonics in Game 1 and took a 14-point lead in the first quarter of Game 2. But then the SuperSonics noticed that without Robinson the Spurs are so ordinary up front even Vin Baker could break out and won Game 2.

With team officials insisting Robinson wasn't going to play in Games 3 or 4, the Spurs turned it around Saturday in Seattle, so at least they'll know they'll see the Alamodome again, and, hopefully, Robinson too.

No. 3 Lakers vs. No. 6 Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers are smaller, still out of control and always distracted by one problem or another. Who could ask for anything more in an opponent?

However, their Game 2 comeback suggests there's some fight left in this asylum. They might not roll over in Game 3 in the Rose Garden the way they did last season.

No. 4 Mavericks vs. No. 5 Timberwolves: Oops again.

The deal for Raef LaFrentz and Nick Van Exel that everyone (hello) sneered at has taken the Mavericks from explosive to super-explosive. The Mavericks, who led the league in scoring, with the fewest turnovers, had a remarkable 122 and six in Game 2.

"We don't pass the ball," said Van Exel, explaining their secret. "Whoever gets the ball shoots it."

It's still hard for little, outside-shooting teams to beat big pound-it-in ones, but the Mavericks can do one thing no one else can--make the Lakers play their way.

And in the junior circuit:

No. 1 Nets vs. No. 8 Pacers: Big woofing series. Byron Scott said he thought the Nets would win. The Pacers posted the quote on every player's stall, as if this was the dreaded disrespect. Jermaine O'Neal said the Nets were dissing him and none of them could play him one-on-one.

Net center Todd MacCulloch was asked if he could play O'Neal straight up.

"Shaquille O'Neal?" MacCulloch asked.

The Nets lead, 2-1, with Jason Kidd, an MVP candidate this season while averaging 15 points and shooting 39%, bumping it up to 24 and 47%. At that pace, he wouldn't have merely been a candidate, he'd have been unanimous.

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