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Nets Are in a Lot of Trouble

June 08, 2002|SAM SMITH | Chicago Tribune

It's not like the New Jersey Nets don't know problems. They featured Derrick Coleman and sold Julius Erving. Rollie Massimino once quit as coach before his introductory announcement news conference, and Larry Brown left in midseason. The Nets are identified with a swamp and a turnpike exit.

And perhaps soon NBA Finals ignominy.

That's because the Nets went where few ever have gone Friday night, down two games to none to the Lakers.

No team ever falling behind 0-2 since this format began in 1984 has recovered to win the championship, and the last to come back from 0-2 was Bill Walton's 1977 Portland Trail Blazers. More likely, the Nets are looking at being the first team to be swept in the Finals since Shaquille O'Neal's Orlando Magic in 1995.

After the Lakers won the first game of the Finals, 99-94, on Wednesday, Coach Phil Jackson expressed some concern.

The victory was similar to the first one against Sacramento in the Western Conference finals, after which his team had been fortunate to win one of the next three games.

So before Friday night's victory in Game 2, Jackson told his players they had given back the Nets their confidence and this game's mission was to take it away again.

No problem.

The Lakers audience-this was no crowd-remained unusually quiet most of the game, Apparently many were stunned that it actually was the Nets in the Finals. But they broke into "MVP" chants for O'Neal as the Lakers pulled away with a 12-0 run late in the third quarter, O'Neal knocking over Nets like they were duck pins while Bryant and Brian Shaw sandwiched in threes for a 77-61 Lakers lead after three quarters.

"Every game on, I have to make myself known," O'Neal said, "make my presence known."

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