Tuesday, May 22, 2001

NBA East finals exciting, pointless

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

        PHILADELPHIA — Reporting today from the B flight of the NBA playoffs, otherwise known as the Eastern Conference finals, where there is one main question:

        Who here wants to earn the right to stand in front of a cement truck?

        The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are young and rambunctious and appear dead even.

        To the victor goes the bittersweet spoils. The NBA Finals, and very probably an assigned seat in the crosshairs of the Los Angeles Lakers, who right now are as enjoyable to play as sticking your face in a propeller.

        Since conventional wisdom has the Lakers and San Antonio currently settling world domination among them
selves in the West, I am not sure why the East is conducting a final round.

        It is a juicy little junior varsity match, between two teams who seem like eager and excitable bunches.

        And why not? It has been 16 years since the Sixers were still around this late, 15 for the Bucks.

Growing pains

        This is not the uppity West, where polished juggernauts rumble. These teams are still under development, trying to plug gaps, cope with injuries, make up for whatever they lack.

        There is Allen Iverson, opening new chapters of his remarkable game each week. Larry Brown trying to coach his way into his first NBA finals. Milwaukee's Trinity composed not of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost — but rather Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and the Big Dog.

        If it is not Allen doing damage, or Cassell, it is Glenn Robinson. If two of them are hot, Milwaukee turns mean.

        The Sixers must plod on without George Lynch and his broken foot. Iverson's foot-to-the-floor style of play leads to numerous pains. The Bucks hope Cassell's bruised ribs hold together.

        It is hard to choose between them. They split four games during the season, both winning once on the other's home floor. The Bucks scored 367 points. The Sixers scored 366. Iverson torched Milwaukee once with 49 points. Allen shredded Philadelphia once for 42.

        This would suggest a furious series ahead.

        Iverson will merit inspection, just to see what he is up to next. On Sunday, he was not Iverson the point machine, going for 52 or 54, but Iverson the Playmaker, with 16 assists, many to McKie. This in response to Toronto's strategy to guard him with everybody but Royal Canadian Mounties.

        When Iverson isn't entertaining the next two weeks, Milwaukee's three-headed attack should be, crashing through 100 points most nights.

Defense counts

        ; This series may be decided by whichever team can defuse the other's weapons of mass destruction.

        The Bucks grumble at the perception they play defense only to get loose to play offense. It was their defense that saved them against Charlotte.

        “I don't know if you realize this yet,” Coach George Karl barked to his team during a timeout in Game 7 when they trailed the Hornets 58-51, “but you're a good defensive basketball team.”

        Charlotte did not score another field goal for more than six minutes.

        Now they face Iverson, who is playing with a fanaticism to get to the next level.

        Of such showdowns can a rollicking series be made. Philadelphia hasn't been to the NBA Finals in 18 years, Milwaukee in 27. It is an intriguing, incendiary pairing. The West can wait.


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