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First Look at NBA Finals

June 03, 2002|Elliott Teaford

Forwards: The Lakers got clutch shooting from power forward Robert Horry to win Game 4 against the Kings, but he is averaging only nine points in the playoffs. He did a credible job of defending Sacramento's Chris Webber. Small forward Rick Fox also is averaging nine points. They will be asked to muzzle the Nets' forwards, mainly Kenyon Martin and Keith Van Horn. Martin is a physical presence who has a short fuse. He will be a handful for Horry. Fox will have a tougher time with Van Horn than he did against the inconsistent Hedo Turkoglu and the injured Peja Stojakovic in the conference final. Van Horn runs hot and cold, but had a fine series against the Boston Celtics.

Center: Shaquille O'Neal should throttle Net center Todd MacCulloch, a 7-footer from Canada who has neither the savvy nor the skills of Sacramento's Vlade Divac. O'Neal is, as ever, the key to the series. The Nets must find a way to at least keep him from scoring 40 or 50 points. New Jersey will probably have Aaron Williams beat up on him when MacCulloch is on the bench or, more likely, in foul trouble. Williams is 6-feet-9 and weighs 225 pounds, which would leave him at a disadvantage against the 7-1 and probably closer to 375-pound O'Neal.

Guards: The intrigue in this series is in the backcourt. Derek Fisher did an OK job on Portland's Damon Stoudamire, then was run ragged by San Antonio's Tony Parker and shredded by Sacramento's Mike Bibby. New Jersey's Jason Kidd was the pick of many MVP voters, if for no other reason than he improved the Nets to the point that they are in their first NBA Finals since joining the league in 1976-77. The Nets' deal to get Kidd from the Phoenix Suns for Stephon Marbury was the steal of last summer. Fisher won't have to worry as much about Kidd pulling up for jump shots. He plays a different style from Bibby, preferring to drive and pass to open teammates when the defense collapses on him. Kerry Kittles is having a career season, but he's no match for Kobe Bryant.

Coaching: The Zen-master meets the former Laker. Phil Jackson has the Lakers poised for a three-peat. Byron Scott, having dispatched the hated Celtics, has the Nets where they haven't been since Julius Erving was leading them to the American Basketball Assn. title in 1976, when the franchise was in Uniondale, N.Y. Jackson's teams have won eight NBA titles. A season ago, Scott's team won 26 games.

Analysis: The Lakers would seem to have all the edges except at point guard, but what else is new? Their experience helped them carry the day against the Kings and should do so again against the upstart Nets. O'Neal cannot be stopped by the Nets, although they will probably beat on him in an attempt to throw him off his game. Bryant will prove to be a handful.

The pick: Lakers in six.

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