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TRANSITION GAME LONNIE WHITE

Only Laker Boredom Can Help the Nets Now

June 11, 2002|LONNIE WHITE

I am not ashamed to say that I was a New York Net fan growing up. It was always a special day whenever I got a chance to travel from my home in New Jersey to Long Island's Nassau Coliseum to watch Dr. J and his afro dominate the court.

It's too bad Julius Erving can't help the Nets now.

Unless the Lakers slack off and just go through the motions on Wednesday, New Jersey's first appearance in the NBA Finals will be a short one. Shaquille O'Neal is simply too dominant and Kobe Bryant is too good for the Lakers to lose to the Nets, who have tried nearly everything to prevent a four-game sweep in the best-of-seven series.

Laker Coach Phil Jackson, who had to work up a sweat coaching against San Antonio and Sacramento, has been in cruise control in the Finals. With O'Neal and Bryant on top of their games, the Laker role players have had an easy time making contributions, making Jackson's job simple.

It has been the opposite for New Jersey Coach Byron Scott, who has been learning as much as his players. Scott may have a few more twists to throw at the Lakers but the key to Wednesday will be O'Neal & Co.'s mental approach. If the Lakers come ready to play, there's not much the Nets can do. A breakdown of Game 4:

NETS' MOVE--Jason Kidd showed why he's so dangerous with a great second-half effort on Sunday. With Scott going with a smaller lineup, which included Richard Jefferson at forward, New Jersey was able to play an up-tempo game. The Nets attempted 83 field goals compared to the Lakers' 68. That has to happen again for New Jersey.

Scott's decision to play a more aggressive match-up zone worked well in Game 3, especially when he had his quicker players on the floor. The Nets not only forced the Lakers into 19 turnovers but they also did a great job scrambling out of double-teams. New Jersey should throw every half-court trap in the book at the Lakers on Wednesday. The more times O'Neal has to handle the ball outside the paint, the better for the Nets.

It was good to see Kenyon Martin get his game going with 26 points on Sunday, but he still has to rebound better. Grabbing only four rebounds in 43 minutes, as Martin did in Game 3, does not get the job done for an NBA power forward. The Nets, who were outrebounded by the Lakers, 40-27, did not have anyone with more than five rebounds.

They could sure use Erving, who averaged 37.6 points and 14.2 rebounds and shot 60% from the field in his last ABA Finals appearance with the Nets.

LAKERS' MOVE--The best thing about their 106-103 victory on Sunday was not O'Neal and Bryant combining for 71 points but Derek Fisher's 13. When New Jersey decided to collapse around O'Neal early, Fisher made the Nets pay with nine points in the first quarter. Although he only scored four more points afterward, Fisher played with confidence the rest of the game. After an up-and-down playoff season, expect Fisher to play with the same self-assurance in Game 4.

The Lakers should execute better against the Nets' match-up zone in Game 4. Bryant had six turnovers because he struggled seeing the double-team. But once he got used to the trap in the fourth quarter, he ate New Jersey up for 12 of his 36 points. Look for him to be even sharper against the Nets' traps on Wednesday.

Don't be surprise to see the Lakers try to trap Kidd more than they have over the first three games. Jackson understands that Kidd is the catalyst behind the Nets and that the Lakers need to keep him under wraps. If Kerry Kittles and Lucious Harris continue to struggle shooting as they did on Sunday (nine points combined), Bryant will probably defend Kidd more.

KEY POINT--Give Jackson credit for sticking with backup swingman Devean George, who has only made 16.1% (five of 31) of his three-point shots in the playoffs. George has become a valuable defender and energy source off the bench for the Lakers.

In the fourth quarter of Game 3, George stepped up with a team-high six rebounds and scored all six of his points.

George may be almost a year older than Bryant but he's a youngster when it comes to playoff pressure.

That's why it is so great to see George producing now.

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