Monday, May 5, 2003

Mavericks, Pistons live to play again

Dallas finishes feisty Trail Blazers, Detroit beats Orlando in Game 7s

The Associated Press

DALLAS - With the Dallas Mavericks on the brink of an epic meltdown, Dirk Nowitzki went to the gym and worked on his shot.

Not Nick Van Exel. He was too ashamed to leave his house.

"I went home and pulled down the blinds," Van Exel said. "I didn't want to be seen. It's an embarrassing feeling to be up 3-0 and then lose three in a row. But this morning, we couldn't wait."

Nowitzki's fine-tuned jumper produced 31 points and Van Exel added 26, sending Dallas past Portland 107-95 Sunday, finally eliminating the Trail Blazers after three failed attempts.

The Mavericks avoided a spot in NBA infamy by showing the tenacity they'd been lacking since winning Game 3. They drove the lane, banged for rebounds and prevented Portland from loading up on easy baskets.

The Blazers, who seemed to have the upper hand after manhandling Dallas in Game 6, ran out of answers in the fourth quarter. They failed to score a basket in the final 3:08, while the Mavericks made 13 of 17 shots in the period, including four 3-pointers.

"We knew our energy wasn't there in the last three games and that's where we had to pick it up," said Nowitzki, who had 11 rebounds. "We had to be more physical in the paint and rebound the ball."

Now they'll have to try doing it all over again in the second round against the Sacramento Kings. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Dallas.

"This was a physically and mentally draining series," said Michael Finley, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. "Nothing Sacramento can do will be tougher than what we faced here."

Although Portland didn't become the first NBA team to overcome a 3-0 deficit, the Blazers earned respect for becoming just the third team to stretch a series to seven games after losing the first three.

Pistons 108, Magic 93

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - With his expressionless face sitting atop sunken shoulders and limp legs, Tracy McGrady stared at the floor in dismay.

McGrady didn't look up at the scoreboard that showed he again would be going home after the first round, nor did he gaze at the fans who taunted him in a raucous, sold-out arena.

"This is the worst of all of them," McGrady said after his Orlando Magic were eliminated by Detroit.

Chauncey Billups scored 37 and rookie Tayshaun Prince had a career-high 20 while harassing McGrady defensively as Detroit defeated Orlando decisively in Game 7 of their first-round series.

The Pistons became just the seventh team in NBA history to advance after falling behind 3-1 in a series, giving McGrady all the time he needs to rest his sleepy eyes. For the fourth straight season, he's done in one.

"Before, I felt like we had to play almost perfect to have a chance. But this time, we were up 3-1 and it was right there for us to take," said McGrady, who scored 21 points on 7-of-24 shooting.

The Miami Heat (1999) and Seattle SuperSonics (1994) are the only top-seeded teams to lose in the first round since the playoffs were expanded to a 16-team format in 1984.

"We did it with a lot of pride," Billups said. "Everybody kind of gave up on us and thought it was over."

The Pistons put an end to Orlando's hopes of advancing for the first time since 1996, when Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway led the Magic to a first-round sweep of Detroit.

Orlando had its only lead after scoring the game's first basket.

The Pistons made nine of their first 11 shots to take a 20-8 lead midway through the first quarter.

After Orlando pulled to 31-30 early in the second quarter, Detroit went on a 14-4 run to take command for good. The Magic cut their deficit to nine early in the third quarter, but the Pistons turned the game into a rout with a 18-4 burst.

Detroit's Richard Hamilton scored 22 points and Ben Wallace added 12 rebounds, seven points, five assists, five blocks and two steals.

Billups, who scored a career-high 40 in Game 6, made 11 of 19 shots and all 12 of his free throws.

Billups, a free-agent acquisition from Minnesota, and Hamilton, who Detroit obtained in a trade with Washington for Jerry Stackhouse, have advanced in the playoffs for the first time.

"We can't celebrate too long," Billups said.

Detroit will play Philadelphia in the second round beginning Tuesday night.

McGrady, who led the NBA in scoring during the regular season, has been knocked out of the first round the past three years in Orlando after it happened during his final season in Toronto.

Today's conference semifinal games

New Jersey (49-33, 4-2) vs. Boston (44-38, 4-2)

Season series: Nets won 3-1, with Boston's win coming way back on Nov. 20, when the since-departed Shammond Williams led the Celtics with 21 points. The Nets won the other games by 35, 15 and 13.

Storyline: A rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals, which the Nets won on the road in Game 6.

Key Matchup I: Kenyon Martin vs. Antoine Walker. The Nets' power forward takes tremendous personal pride in his ability to shut down Walker, which he has been able to do consistently. In the Nets' three regular-season wins, Martin held Walker to 3-for-15, 5-for-18 and 6-for-15 shooting. "When we play this team, we do things that are uncharacteristic for us," Walker said in March. "Some teams just have your number during the regular season."

Key Matchup II: Jason Kidd vs. Tony Delk/J.R. Bremer. Should be the mismatch of the series, with one of the best playmakers in the game taking on either Delk - more of a shooter than a playmaker - or the rookie from St. Bonaventure. Kidd has a strong distaste for Boston fans, who heckled his wife during last year's playoffs.

X Factor: Rodney Rogers of New Jersey was a member of the Celtics a year ago. His former role in Boston's offense has shifted to Walter McCarty, who had a nice series against Indiana, averaging 12 points and making 14 3-pointers.

Little Known Fact: Kidd had three triple-doubles in last season's conference finals, joining Oscar Robertson (1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (1967) as the only players to have three of those statistical rarities in a postseason series.

Prediction: Nets in 5.

San Antonio Spurs (60-22, 4-2) vs. L.A. Lakers (50-32, 4-2)

Season Series: Spurs won 4-0. Two games were played early in the season before Shaquille O'Neal returned from foot surgery. Kobe Bryant scored 44 in the third meeting, but angered coach Phil Jackson by taking 41 shots. After the fourth game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "They are still the best team on the planet until proved different in the playoffs."

Storyline: The three-time defending champion Lakers' second stop in their quest to become the first team in nearly four decades to win four straight titles.

Key Matchup I: Bryant vs. Bruce Bowen. The best backcourt player in the Western Conference vs. one of the toughest man-to-man defenders in the league. Bryant averaged 31.8 points in the first round vs. Minnesota. Bowen scored 31 points in the entire six-game series against Phoenix.

Key Matchup II: Derek Fisher vs. Tony Parker. Fisher has the better 3-point shot and more postseason experience, while Parker has an edge in speed and creativity. As the third offensive option behind Shaq and Kobe, Fisher will be a key component of the supporting cast with Rick Fox sidelined by injury.

X Factor: The mental matchup. The Lakers needed only nine games to oust the Spurs from the playoffs the past two seasons, with Popovich uttering the memorable line two years ago: "Now I know how Custer felt."

Little Known Fact: After the Lakers lost to San Antonio 103-95 on Valentine's Day, O'Neal rented out the Beverly Hills restaurant Avenue to personally cook and serve dinner to his new bride, Shaunie Nelson.

Prediction: Lakers in 7.

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Cards come to town atop NL Central
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NL: Gonzalez comes through for Cubs again
AL: Zito beats Clemens in Cy Young battle
No such thing as tough luck when Clemens loses
Notes from Sunday's games
Buffalo 7, Louisville 2

Simmons' assignment: Improve special teams
New QB to get some rest
Colts pleased with new TE
Cowboys wrap up first minicamp for Parcells

Prep baseball, softball polls and leaders
Monday's schedule

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Flesch gets first career win

Flyers need Cechmanek's best vs. Ottawa

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Hornets fire Silas after 47-35 season
As Billups goes, so go the Pistons

Nemechek gambles, blunders, and wins

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Rome TV show on ESPN is on tap
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Monday's sports on TV, radio