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1999 NBA Playoffs

Going with the favorites to the finals

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Posted: Tuesday June 01, 1999 11:09 AM


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Good guys like Joe Dumars and Vlade Divac are at home while Latrell Sprewell and J.R. Rider are getting frighteningly close to championship rings. There's a moral here somewhere, but I don't think I want to know what it is.

Gotta give Spree and J.R. their props, though. Regardless of their past problems, they've both been outstanding in the playoffs. Sprewell has turned the Knicks into an explosive, open-court team, and Rider has been a clutch fourth-quarter player for the Blazers. But I tend to think that both their teams are about to come to the end of the road. I made the mistake of picking the Jazz over Portland in the semis, and Blazers point guard Greg Anthony gave me some good-natured ribbing about that last week -- good to know that players read the Mailbag, though. But I guess I haven't learned my lesson.

The deeper you go in the playoffs, the more you lean toward the team that has the most dominant player, and in the Portland-San Antonio series, that's obviously Tim Duncan. The Blazers have lots of good big men, but I don't think even Brian Grant and Rasheed Wallace will be able to slow down Duncan significantly. Just as important, the Spurs' role players, like Avery Johnson and Jaren Jackson , are playing with such confidence right now that they'll make the Blazers pay for giving Duncan too much attention. If Portland is going to win, Damon Stoudamire and Anthony have to dominate Johnson at the point. Anthony could be especially important (and I'm not just saying that because you might be reading this, Greg). I thought his defense against John Stockton took the Jazz out of their offense at times, and probably the best way to contain Duncan is to make it hard for AJ to get the ball to him. Bottom line: Spurs in 6.

In the East, my SI colleague Marty Burns picked the Knicks over the Pacers, but I'll let you in on a little secret: He only did that because picking Indiana would have been too obvious. I have no problem being obvious. Not to take anything away from the Knicks, but they had a good draw so far, getting Miami with Tim Hardaway hurting and Atlanta with no bench whatsoever. The Pacers are healthy and deep, and they won't rattle the way both the Heat and the Hawks did. Indiana has a number of people to throw at Sprewell and Allan Houston, including Jalen Rose and Derrick McKey , and Sprewell is the most important Knick right now. If he doesn't have a big series, I don't think New York has a chance. I've heard from people around the Pacers that Larry Bird's team is very confident, maybe overconfident. That's the Knicks' best hope. If the Pacers think they're getting the New York team they blew out twice during the regular season, they're in for a rude awakening. The Knicks will give a good account of themselves, but here's the bottom line: Pacers in 7.

Now let's see what's on your minds:

You mentioned earlier the possibility of either Portland or Seattle trying to broker a deal with Miami for a point guard. What about Minnesota in this scenario? Apparently Terrell Brandon may want out and the Pacific Northwest is his home. Do you see Gary Payton or Damon Stoudamire coming to the T'Wolves as a possibility? Consider our two first-round selections this year, as well (trade bait).
—Mark Redetzke, Minneapolis

Terrell Brandon, who is a free agent, could very well figure into the scenario somehow, possibly in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland for Stoudamire. It's no secret that Damon isn't thrilled with splitting playing time with Greg Anthony, and the idea of going to Minnesota to play with Kevin Garnett might very well appeal to him. Nothing's going to happen, though, until Stoudamire and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, sit down with Blazers GM Bob Whitsitt to talk things out after the playoffs. The Blazers might decide they want to keep Stoudamire and make him the full-time point guard, although Anthony has played so well defensively in the postseason that that would be a tough decision to make.

As I said before, I don't think the Sonics will let Gary Payton get away. They'd sooner lose coach Paul Westphal or GM Wally Walker than let that happen. And Pat Riley is saying that he still believes in Hardaway. So if the T'Wolves can't re-sign Brandon, Stoudamire is the guy they have the best chance of getting as a replacement.

Since the Bulls won the draft lottery, who is the best player to pick? In my opinion, a guy like Corey Maggette would be the wrong choice. I would draft Elton Brand or even Lamar Odom.
—Ken Diederich, Luxembourg

Odom, yes. Brand, no. I'm hearing that Brand is closer to 6'6" than the 6'8" he was listed at in college. And there are people who are saying he could be more like Armon Gilliam than Karl Malone . I think he'll be a good, solid pro, but maybe not a star. Odom definitely has the bigger upside, and if the draft were tomorrow, I think he would be the top pick.

Who are the Magic going to hire to replace Chuck Daly? I know who they should hire ... He's already on staff with the Magic: Eric Musselman.
—Mike Dolin, Charlotte

It's too early to get a line on the Orlando candidates, because the Magic were taken a little bit by surprise by Daly's resignation. You'll hear Doc Rivers' name, as well as Scott Skiles'. Also, if Jeff Van Gundy leaves New York, either by firing or resignation, both of which are still possible, don't be surprised if Orlando shows some interest. Van Gundy's had some success and his price tag won't be unreasonable. That could make him very popular if he doesn't return to the Knicks. As for Musselman, he's considered future head-coaching material in the league, but he's going to have to wait a few years longer for his turn.

The NBA needs a minor league. Why should the fans pay 50 bucks and more for tickets to watch players "develop"? This is garbage. The games are not entertaining as it is. It's painful to watch the playoffs now. What is your opinion?
—Lawrence Graves, Chicago

I see you're in Chicago, Lawrence. You sure you're not just grumpy from missing Michael ? I won't argue with you that the quality of play is down. There are too many kids coming into the league who know how to dunk but don't know how to play. I don't think a minor league is really the answer, though. It would hurt the college game even more, and I'm a fan of college ball. From a business standpoint, I don't think it would really fly. The CBA has been only moderately successful because people just aren't that interested in second-tier pros. One promising thing is that I've been told that this summer the NBA will finally look at ways to open the game up so we won't have to watch too many more of these 78-69 embarrassments. But I think the playoffs have been reasonably good. The Kings were entertaining, the Blazers are athletic, Tim Duncan is as smooth as good scotch, and even the Knicks have actually been kind of fun to watch. The game isn't perfect by any means, but I think it needs some tinkering, not a major overhaul.

Can you tell me why so many people are down on Nick Van Exel? I think he is one of the top 10 points in the league. To me, he was one of the only Lakers with heart, and they trade him for "El Busto" Tony Battie! I think the Laker team of Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, Cedric Ceballos, Eddie Jones and Van Exel was better than the current squad. They weren't as talented but they were a better team! I think Jerry West and Jerry Buss are WAY overated! They should have let that team mature. Do you think they will blow up this team again this offseason?
—Keith Woodson, Bronx, N.Y.

It's true that the Lakers haven't exactly upgraded themselves at the point since Van Exel left, but let's not overlook Nick the Quick's flaws. He has bad shot selection, which is an unforgivable sin for a point guard, and that's why he's barely a 40% career shooter. The Nuggets were counting on him to be a leader this year, and instead Nick didn't always show up on time for practice, or play hard once he got there. I don't think he's the right point guard for a team as unstable as the Lakers. As for the future, Buss and West would like to let the team mature. They want to keep the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant-Glen Rice nucleus together, and I think they will. I don't see any major moves unless Rice decides he just can't live with being the third option. If that happens, look for L.A. to try to trade him for someone who can play perimeter defense. In giving up Jones and Campbell for Rice, which I admit I thought was a good deal for them at the time, the Lakers made the mistake of trying to upgrade their offense at the expense of their defense. That's not how you win championships.

I am 7'6" tall, white, 330 pounds, can speak correct grammar and can shoot free throws. Do I have a future in L.A.?
—Michael Cariaga, San Bernardino, Calif.

With those vitals, you have a future anywhere you want, big fella. Can I be your agent?

Got an NBA question? Click here to e-mail Phil Taylor.

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