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EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

Nets Ready to Swamp Opposition Again

October 28, 2002|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

New Jersey Net Coach Byron Scott laughed when he heard horror stories about his new franchise, even if it was based, literally and symbolically, in a swamp.

Then he went 26-56 in 2000-01 while Stephon Marbury rolled his eyes at Keith Van Horn and most of the other guys under contract got hurt. Just in case, Scott had an uncle, who's a lay minister, bless the Meadowlands, even if it was only over the telephone.

Not that that was all it took but....

That summer the new general manager, Rod Thorn, told people he had to move Marbury and/or Van Horn to dump payroll. Providentially, Phoenix decided to help him out, sending him Jason Kidd for Marbury.

Then on draft day, Thorn traded the rights to Eddie Griffin to Houston for Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins. The Nets went 52-30, won the East and reached the NBA Finals for the first time since entering the NBA in 1977.

Thorn just hit it big again, getting the 7-foot defensive presence they needed, Dikembe Mutombo, donated providentially by Philadelphia's restless Larry Brown, who also was obliging enough to take Van Horn's confidence problems and $11-million salary off Thorn's hands.

The Nets should be significantly better than they were a year ago, making them solid favorites, because last season's Nos. 2-3 teams, the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, don't look as good.

Moving up should be the Indiana Pacers, who tore themselves down and built themselves back up in a hurry since their 2000 Finals appearance and are ready to rock.

Then there are the Hornets, young and talented, who were dismayed at having to play before intimate gatherings in Charlotte. Now they're in New Orleans, which had to make do with Pete Maravich and bad teams in the NBA's last visit, but may be in for a treat.

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Last 10 Seasons

*--* Team that finished with best Eastern Conferen ce record, and which team reached the NBA Finals (NBA champion s in bold): Season Top Team Record NBA finalist Record 2001-02 New Jersey Nets 52-30 New Jersey 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers 56-26 Philadelphia 76ers 1999-00 Indiana Pacers 56-26 Indiana Pacers 1998-99 Minn., Orlando, Indiana 33-17 New York Knicks 27-23 1997-98 Chicago Bulls 62-20 Chicago Bulls 1996-97 Chicago Bulls 69-13 Chicago Bulls 1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72-10 Chicago Bulls 1994-95 Orlando Magic 57-25 Orlando Magic 1993-94 New York, Atlanta 57-15 New York Knicks 1992-93 New York Knicks 60-22 Chicago Bulls 57-25

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