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Talking Is Getting the Nets Nowhere

New Jersey: Kidd isn't as impressive as Game 1, and defense doesn't seem to have a clue how to handle O'Neal.

June 08, 2002|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The New Jersey Nets promised they would be significantly better to start Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Friday at Staples Center. They weren't. The Nets vowed to play with confidence and poise and show the Lakers they are worthy and dangerous opponents. They didn't and, so far, they aren't.

Now what?

The Nets couldn't win in Game 1, when point guard Jason Kidd was superb, scoring 23 points, taking 10 rebounds and adding 10 assists. They certainly couldn't win with him playing as poorly as he did during Game 2.

What's more, New Jersey couldn't win Game 1 when they tried to stop Laker center Shaquille O'Neal without double-teaming him, and he responded with 36 points and 12 rebounds. The Nets failed to win Game 2 when they attempted the same strategy, and O'Neal ended up with 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.

What now?

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. The Nets have until then to sort out their numerous shortcomings.

Late Friday, the Nets continued to talk a better game than they have played in their first Finals.

They said all the things you would expect from a team that finds itself down by two games to none.

"We have to stay aggressive, we have to stay positive, we have to stay together," Kidd said after the Nets' 106-83 loss to the Lakers.

"We have a lot of fight left," guard Kerry Kittles said after leading the Nets with 23 points on nine-of-19 shooting.

"It's going to be tough, but that's our situation right now," said reserve guard Lucious Harris, who missed all nine of his shots.

And there also was this from center Todd MacCulloch, who has been helpless while trying to guard O'Neal: "It would probably be more disheartening if we had played perfect games or near perfect games, but we haven't."

Apart from shooting bricks to begin Games 1 and 2, the Nets' biggest failing has been to at least slow O'Neal.

O'Neal's dominance became comical when, at one point in the third quarter, he faked New Jersey forward Aaron Williams into the air. Williams came to rest on O'Neal's back, looking like a child hopping on his father's back for a piggyback ride.

Of course, the fact remains that Williams stands 6 feet 9 and weighs 225 pounds, appearing small only when compared with the 7-1, 335-pound O'Neal.

Less humorous was a third-period knee-to-knee collision between Kidd and Laker forward Rick Fox, which resulted in Kidd's third foul and a noticeable limp.

"It's not broke, so I'll be ready to play on Sunday," Kidd said. "It's do or die. It's been do or die for a while now. Gotta play through it."

Kidd's game improved despite the collision. Early on, Kidd and the Nets were brutal--shooting 24% and trailing, 27-21, in the first quarter Friday after making 27.3% and trailing, 29-14, in the opening quarter Wednesday.

Kidd hardly looked to shoot in the first half and when he did, he missed. Scoreless after missing five attempts in the first half, Kidd forced the issue to start the third quarter.

He would score 17 points, take nine rebounds and add seven assists by game's end. But his six-for-17 shooting stood out in the final box score.

"The game is about making shots," Kidd said. "We had plenty of them. We didn't do it. They held serve.... We have to keep our heads high and be positive. There's a big game Sunday. If we win that one, maybe we'll give them a little bit of a scare.

"With the Lakers, they probably feel they haven't played their best game. That could be scary, but we haven't played our best game yet either."

At this point, that's a small consolation for the Nets, whose best doesn't figure to equal the Lakers' best.

New Jersey needs a flawless Kidd at the point and inspired play from his supporting cast if it hopes to inject something approaching intrigue into what has been a one-sided Finals.

"Please, let's get out of here right now," Harris said.

"Please, let's go back home and when Game 3 comes, we'll still have a chance."

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