"As long as David's mind is in the game, he's going to be a force," Duncan says. "When we forget that we need to help each other and push each other, that's when we don't do very well."
Anthony Mason's View
Bucks Have Outside Shot
Can the Bucks reach the Finals by shooting jumpers and relying on their explosive offense to bail out their indifferent defense? Power forward Anthony Mason is certain they can't. "We shouldn't mention championships until we get a balanced attack and decide defense comes first," Mason says. "I look in the eyes of the other team, and I don't see worry. I see bravado."
Acquiring the 35-year-old Mason was the primary off-season objective of G.M. Ernie Grunfeld, who had signed Mason to a six-year, $25 million contract in 1995, when both were with the Knicks. Grunfeld believes Mason's passing, defense and toughness have improved Milwaukee without diminishing its fluid attack. "I expect things to keep improving," says Grunfeld, predicting that the Bucks, who were leading the Central Division with a 26-16 record at week's end, will also benefit from their remaining schedule, which includes 23 home games and no Western Conference road trips.
Through Sunday, Mason was averaging 8.5 points, his lowest output since 1993-94. He insists that if the Bucks feed him in the low post, he can either finish himself or draw a double team and kick the ball back to an open shooter. To those who believe he's less effective near the basket than the Milwaukee marksmen are from outside, Mason cites his All-Star numbers with the Heat last season. "We have the most talent in the NBA, but when you play against us, all your scouting report says is, 'Stop the perimeter shooting,' " Mason says. "If you wait until you're in a five-game playoff series to get acclimated to going inside, you're going to be getting acclimated to watching the rest of the playoffs on TV."
All-Star guard Ray Allen disputes Mason's dire prediction. "We could have won one more game last year and we'd have been in the Finals," says Allen. "We play fast, unconventional basketball, which is the right way for us."
Despite such disagreements, Mason wants to fit in. He says he proved that by moving to Chicago in September and playing pickup games with the Bucks in Milwaukee, even though the team didn't clear enough room under the luxury-tax threshold to sign him to a four-year, $20.9 million contract until six days before the season. Mason also says he held his tongue about his limited role in the offense because he wasn't in shape the first two months of the season after missing training camp and he was wary of furthering his reputation as a troublemaker. "People say I'm disruptive, but I just tell the truth," he says. "I can be nice and say, 'Look, sweetheart, let's try to get the ball inside.' Or I can say, 'Get the f------ ball inside!' "
The Bucks haven't entirely ignored the 6'8" Mason, who at week's end was averaging a team-high 38.2 minutes. He usually guards the top-scoring forward, often brings the ball upcourt and has done some damage of his own on the perimeter, where he and point guard Sam Cassell work an effective two-man game. While coach George Karl appears to agree with Mason, he is sensitive about upsetting his team's "positive energy and flow." Incorporating Mason into the offense will work only if his teammates make it work. "If I force it on them," Karl says, "I risk sacrificing what we've gained the last three years."
Still, in the second half of a 99-88 loss to the Sonics last Thursday, when Seattle scored 18 straight points, Mason was shaking his head and cursing as he ran the court. The Bucks, who at the time were ranked fourth in the NBA in three-pointers, sank only 8 of 28 threes in that defeat. "I like the way we play, because it puts defenses on their heels," Mason says. "But have you ever heard of a team winning a championship without getting the ball inside?"
The New TV Contract
A Financial Gain, But at a Price