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They're Barely on the Marquee


Out here, we are viewed with amusement, as just another set of droll characters helping to break up the monotony of another perfect 78-degree day. We all wear headbands like Springsteen, circa 1984.

We awls tawk like Carmella Soprano, circa 2001. We are swamp creatures, Turnpike trolls, Bon Jovi fans.

We are the very special guest stars in this perfectly crafted screenplay. Out here, you see, they recognize that the Lakers are playing the NBA Finals. And that the Nets--that's the name of the team, right?--are merely playing the Foils. Turns out to be a league rule: A second team is required in order to make the NBA's championship round count for real.

"New Jersey!" bubbles the hotel hostess. "Oh, I just looooove Jason Kidd! He's soooooo adorable."

Adorable? Yes, that's the way the basketball-spoiled populace of Southern California has come to view these NBA Finals. The Lakers themselves are careful to keep their comments perfectly bland and vanilla.

Kobe Bryant: "The Nets are a very, very, very good basketball team."

Rick Fox: "The Nets are very good." (You have to earn your verys from Mr. Vanessa Williams.)

Phil Jackson: "[Zen] develops a capacity to relax the middle brain where you have to be able to function from if you want to use decision-making abilities from the brain ... "

(Trust us. That means Phil thinks the Nets are very good.)

The rest of the town, of course, sees no compelling reason to display such restraint. See, if the Nets thought they had credibility problems before, if they're steamed because they weren't earning respect from various and sundry Pacers, Hornets and Celtics these last 61/2 weeks, then it will be impossible to calculate the levels of disrespect rising through the smoggy skyline of L.A. these next few days.

Yes, the locals are already preparing for certain inevitabilities: Shaquille O'Neal feasting on the Nets' three-headed center mutation, Aaron MacCollins. Kobe Bryant reminding every Net fan of John Calipari's front-office savvy every time he rains a jumper on top of Kerry Kittles. Mark Madsen granting permanent life to certain Caucasian stereotypes with each dance step he unleashes at the inevitable post-parade celebration.

And this familiar refrain: Lakers in four. Well, I'm here to tell you that the adorable Nets gleefully accept the challenge set before them by the City of Angels. They are used to being overlooked.

So Kenyon Martin doesn't even work up a good sweat anymore, pondering affronts and slights: "I don't have to make my case. We're here," he said.

So Jason Kidd just smiles and says, "We are not here on a paid vacation, here to go Hollywood. We are not here to help our acting careers."

So the Nets smile when they hear all the sweep talk and say, "We'll see."

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