HOTLY CONTESTED games, drawn-out series, media searching for sound bites--that's the inflammable mix that prompts NBA players to shoot off their mouths in the postseason. Sometimes they do it unintentionally, their words often winding up on the bulletin board in an opponent's locker room. Other times they partake in verbal gamesmanship, hoping a well-placed quote will fire up teammates or unsettle the opposition. Here are some of the mouthy maneuvers to listen for.
? The Victory GuaranteePreferred by brash types for motivational fodder, though it often creates undue pressure on the speaker: Last season Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace promised a win over the Pacers in Game 2 of the conference finals, then shot 4 for 19. ( Tayshaun Prince bailed him out with a timely block in Detroit's victory.) Most likely guarantors: Wallace, Gary Payton, Tracy McGrady.
? The Needle Masters of the art will find an opponent's weakness and harp on it. While he was a Laker, Shaquille O'Neal referred to the Kings as the Queens, highlighting their reputation for softness. Attempts to retaliate--"If the Lakers don't have home court advantage, they're not going to win [the series]," Sacramento center Vlade Divac said in 2002--were used as motivational fodder by L.A. In the case of that quote, someone (probably Phil Jackson) taped it to Shaq's locker. Most likely needlers: O'Neal, Danny Fortson, Ray Allen.
? The Dis Miss Is there anything worse than when a put-down backfires? After Game 6 of a 2003 series Trail Blazers forward Ruben Patterson said he thought the Mavericks were "a little scared now." Upon winning Game 7, Dallas coach Don Nelson said, "Thank you, Ruben, for being dumber than a rock and helping us." Most likely dissers: Ricky Davis, Gilbert Arenas, Bonzi Wells.
? The Faux Furor Pat Riley was notorious for turning innocuous quotes into fighting words, even showing them on an overhead projector before games. "Coaches always--always--tell you not to throw gasoline on the fire," says Timberwolves center Ervin Johnson. "They'll say, 'Be careful what you say because we've got to play this team again.'" Often those same coaches then scan the papers to find something innocuous to incite their own teams. Most likely dramatists: Doc Rivers, Jeff Van Gundy, George Karl.
Then there are those who see no benefit to verbal sparring. "If [players] need that to motivate them and it's the playoffs," says Bulls forward Antonio Davis, "they're in trouble already."--C.B.