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Does Phil have the Zen for Ten?

On Basketball

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004

For Phil Jackson, this could be the perfect playoffs. If the stars align and the earth rotates right, he can humiliate Jeff Van Gundy in the first round, de-deify Jerry West in the second round and torment Sacramento, Dallas or Minnesota in the conference finals.

And then it could really get good.

For Act IV, he'd break Red Auerbach's record of nine NBA championships by outwitting Larry Brown, Larry Bird or Larry Frank.

Nothing could compare except maybe an urt for two in Katmandu with the lovely Jeanie Buss at his side.

Or maybe being the first $10 million-a-year NBA coach and trucking his triangle offense to a new NBA city, a place where the daily dispositions of Kobe, Shaq, et al, could be slotted safely in his past.

Jackson will be free to take his act elsewhere this summer because his agent, Todd Musberger, and Lakers owner Jerry Buss (Jeanie's dad) broke off negotiations on a contract extension earlier this season, right around the time Bryant was publicly professing his dislike for the so-called Zen Master.

Of course, that came after Bryant opened the season by ripping O'Neal as ''childlike,'' ''unprofessional,'' ''selfish,'' ''fat'' and ''jealous,'' then closed it by hitting two spectacular 3-point shots against Portland that gave the Lakers the Pacific Division title.

Jackson was still stunned by the latest turn of events as he spoke with reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday.

''It was a roller coaster ride to say the least,'' Jackson said. ''And here we are. We'd sure like to have another 24 hours at least to get our players healthy and prepared.''

The Lakers will begin their series against Houston on Saturday, one of four games scheduled that day along with Indiana-Boston, New York-New Jersey and San Antonio-Memphis.

Sunday's Game 1s are Milwaukee-Detroit, Dallas-Sacramento, New Orleans-Miami and Denver-Minnesota.

The Mavericks-Kings series figures to be a smorgasbord of offense, the league's two highest-scoring teams going against each other in a rematch of a seven-game series won last spring by Dallas.

The Grizzlies-Spurs series will introduce a substantial number of basketball viewers to a Memphis team that's an unfamiliar commodity to the casual fan.

The Pacers-Celtics series should give Indiana a chance to legitimize their talents to the folks outside of Indiana that Jermaine O'Neal keeps complaining about the ones giving the Pacers no respect despite their 61 wins and 20-8 record against the more highly regarded West.

The other Van Gundy, Stan, brings in a Miami team that closed the season 17-4 to jump up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference and earn homecourt advantage against New Orleans, which left Jamal Mashburn off its playoff roster.

New York and New Jersey figure to have a series dominated by cheers for the Knicks, no matter where they play, and victories for the Nets, who are looking to make it back to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.

Minnesota finished with the West's best record and will try to make it to the second round following seven straight first-round exits, but the Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell will have to get past rookie Carmelo Anthony and his Nuggets teammates who will be looking for a repeat of an NBA rarity an eighth seed knocking off a No. 1 seed. It's happened only twice, but one of those teams was Denver a decade ago.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are stumbling into their series against Detroit after failing to win any of three games that would have given them the fourth seed and an easier first-round opponent. Milwaukee blew fourth-quarter leads all three times.

''Obviously, the finish has left a bad taste in our mouth,'' Milwaukee coach Terry Porter said.

Jackson exited the postseason with a similar feeling almost a year ago after the Lakers were eliminated 4-2 by San Antonio in the second round, ending their string of three consecutive championships.

Back then, Auerbach publicly questioned whether a run of three straight titles constitutes a dynasty or could compare to his own run of eight straight championships with the Boston Celtics from 1959-66.

''I am not surprised at Red's comments,'' Jackson said at the time. ''I just hope, when I get to be his age, someone will pull a cigar from my mouth and insert an oxygen tube to breathe and think clearly.''

Nothing nearly that confrontational came out of Jackson's mouth Thursday in looking ahead to the playoffs.

Don't count on him staying reserved, however, if any of his pet peeves Van Gundy straying onto the court, Kings fans clanging cowbells in his ears, West cozying up to Kobe, Madsen dancing resurface in the upcoming weeks.

Editor's note: Chris Sheridan has been the AP's pro basketball writer since 1996.



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