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MacCulloch Will Play Big Role in Series

June 04, 2002|Elliott Teaford

All eyes will be on New Jersey Net center Todd MacCulloch in the NBA Finals, just as they were on Portland's Dale Davis, San Antonio's David Robinson and Sacramento's Vlade Divac in the earlier rounds.

How MacCulloch fares against Shaquille O'Neal will be one of the keys to the Nets' fortunes in their first Finals appearance.

MacCulloch is a 7-foot, 280-pounder in his third season in the NBA. If his name sounds familiar, it could be because he served as Dikembe Mutombo's backup last season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Neither he nor Mutombo had much (any?) luck thwarting O'Neal in the Finals last season, however. O'Neal averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.4 blocked shots during the Lakers' five-game victory over the 76ers and was named the Finals most valuable player for the second consecutive season.

"He is not an easy matchup for anyone," MacCulloch told a New Jersey newspaper. "I'll do my best to try to push him out and make him get tough catches and try to run the floor and look to be aggressive against him offensively and see if I can get him in foul trouble."

So far, MacCulloch said the Nets haven't asked for his advice on facing the Lakers.

"I don't think anybody on this team knows I was there," he joked. "They were all on vacation last year. They weren't watching the Finals. Even if they did, even though the Sixers were there, I wasn't on the court too much."

O'Neal had 40 points and 12 rebounds against the Nets in the Lakers' victory March 5 at Staples Center. He sat out the Nets' victory April 3 at Continental Airlines Arena because of a sprained right wrist.


MacCulloch told the Newark Star-Ledger that he'll never forget Game 1 last season against the Lakers, particularly seeing a celebrity-filled Staples Center. One star stood out above the rest, for MacCulloch, and it wasn't Jack or Dyan.

"Wayne Gretzky," MacCulloch said of seeing his boyhood idol in the courtside seats for the opening game of the Finals.

MacCulloch hails from Winnipeg, Canada, and every good Canadian boy and girl grows up a hockey fan first and foremost.


Pete Carril, Sacramento King assistant coach and a mentor to New Jersey Coach Byron Scott, was asked if the Nets had a chance to upset the two-time defending champion Lakers.

"You bet they have a chance," said Carril, perhaps best known as the former Princeton coach. "The Nets aren't as good at center as we are, but it should be interesting. I don't think you can count them out." Some people counted them out after that third game in Boston, but that was foolish."


Scott grew up in Inglewood, sneaking into the Forum to watch games, and later played opposite Magic Johnson in the Lakers' backcourt in the 1980s.

Now, he'll be facing Phil Jackson.

"That's a dream come true," Scott said. "To match wits with Phil Jackson, who is one of the best coaches in the league, it's going to be exciting."

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