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Will Spurs be able to rein in Nets?

Posted: Wednesday, June 04, 2003

SAN ANTONIO The New Jersey Nets plan to run, and the San Antonio Spurs plan to stop them from running.

The NBA Finals begin Wednesday night, and if the best-of-seven series can be broken down into one central theme, that's it.

If the Nets are successful with their fast break, as they were in the first three rounds, they'll have a much better chance of erasing everyone's collective memory of their dreadful performance in the finals a year ago, when they were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers.

If the Spurs can stop them, San Antonio will dramatically increase its chances of taking home the franchise's second championship.

''I think it's going to pretty much be the series, in the sense of who can force their will on the tempo,'' Nets guard Jason Kidd said. ''The key is to put the ball in the basket, that always helps. But if you can force your tempo and maintain that, whoever does it the longest will probably win the series.''

San Antonio also had to stop an opponent's transition game in its last series, but that was against a Dallas Mavericks team that liked to run and shoot jump shots especially 3-pointers.

The Nets are different.

''These guys will be going to the rim. Dallas had guys run to spots,'' Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. ''We're accustomed to running back in general, but the Nets and Dallas are totally different teams.''

The Nets outscored the Pistons 94-15 in fast-break points during the Eastern Conference finals after outscoring the Boston Celtics 78-22 in the same category during the conference semifinals. New Jersey swept both series.

''If we can limit their transition baskets, we'll have a great opportunity. If not, it'll be a long night for us,'' Bowen said.

The Spurs held the Mavericks to no more than eight fast-break baskets in five of their six games during the Western Conference finals, and they were only outscored in that category 91-64 over the course of that series.

In order to keep the Nets from running, the Spurs will need to sprint back on defense while staying aware of where the ball is.

Kidd is a master at creating fast-break baskets with his pinpoint passing, and he's surrounded by a team of finishers, including Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles, all of whom are adept at closing a fast break in style with an alley-oop dunk.

Martin had 105 dunks during the season, which the Nets said was tied for fourth-most in the NBA. Jefferson had 67 dunks, and Kittles 37. As a team, New Jersey had 295 dunks fourth in the league behind the Lakers, Nuggets and Bulls.

The Nets will look to run whenever they can off steals, off missed shots, even off made shots. But the key will be turnovers.

''Our weakness is obviously at the free-throw line and committing turnovers,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ''Hanging onto the basketball is really a priority for us.''

Only five NBA teams had more turnovers during the regular season than San Antonio, and New Jersey led the NBA with an average of 18.7 fast-break points per game 2.6 more than the second-place Memphis Grizzlies.

Also, the Spurs were ranked 26th in the 29-team league in free-throw shooting at 72.5 percent. During the playoffs, they've made only 71.4 percent.

''If you rebound the ball and get stops, hopefully we can beat Tim (Duncan) and David (Robinson) down the court with the run,'' Martin said. ''Everyone we've played so far, people were saying we couldn't run, and we have. So hopefully we can transfer that over to now.''

Both teams will be well-rested when the series finally begins, the Nets to a much greater degree than the Spurs.

New Jersey will have been off for 10 days when Game 1 tips off shortly after 8:30 p.m. EDT, while San Antonio hasn't played since last Thursday.

Duncan, Robinson, Malik Rose and Steve Kerr are the only remaining members of the Spurs' 1999 championship team, which had to wait 10 days to begin the finals after sweeping Portland in the Western Conference finals.

''It's the perfect amount of time to detox and get some good practice in. I think we're in the perfect spot,'' said Kerr, who also had a nine-day layoff prior to the 1996 finals, when he played for the Chicago Bulls.

Chicago was the last Eastern Conference team to win an NBA title, doing it in 1998 Michael Jordan's final season with the Bulls.

The last four titles have been won by teams from the West, but the Nets with their wide-open style and affinity for running often are described as a Western Conference-style team stuck in the East.

''I don't consider our style so much West Coast, it's just the way we play with the personnel we have,'' coach Byron Scott said.

If that personnel can get out and run, the Nets might just have a chance.

If not, San Antonio will become the NBA's Titletown.



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