Sunday, June 1, 2003

Duncan praises Martin's defense

Big-man matchup is key to series

The Associated Press

Kenyon Martin relaxes as he talks to the media before practice Friday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
SAN ANTONIO - Tim Duncan doesn't expect to see a lot of crazy defensive schemes from the New Jersey Nets. Instead, he expects mostly man-to-man coverage from a player - Kenyon Martin - who has Duncan's respect as one of the best defensive big men in the NBA.

"Kenyon is right up there with them. He's got quick feet, his hands are active," Duncan said. "If there was to be one guy (who defends him best), he would be right up there with them."

The Duncan-Martin matchup will be one of the keys to the NBA Finals, which begin Wednesday night. Martin is the Nets' best rebounder and second-leading scorer, but it's his defense that makes him such a special player.

Martin was able to shut down Boston's Antoine Walker in the second round when New Jersey swept the Celtics, and he more than neutralized Detroit's Ben Wallace in the Eastern Conference finals.

Duncan said he already has reviewed the tapes of New Jersey's two regular-season games against the Spurs, which the teams split. He said the Nets often sent a second defender only halfway over toward him when he received the ball off an entry pass, placing weakside defenders in the passing lanes to try to come up with steals.

"He's really become quite the master at understanding how he's being played," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who expects Martin to be physical with Duncan and try to move him as far away from the basket as possible.

Popovich also predicted that Martin will keep Duncan guessing by playing in front of him, next to him or behind him on different possessions.

The Spurs had another day off Saturday but planned to resume practicing this morning. The Nets, meanwhile, were back on the court in East Rutherford, N.J., trying to stay sharp during their 10-day layoff between games.

Coach Byron Scott said the Spurs present a different type of challenge than the Nets' previous postseason opponents.

"Milwaukee was a perimeter team and so was Boston. Detroit's inside game was smaller guys, smaller guys we could match up with. Now, we have to match up against a guy who is going to have an inch or two on everybody who guards him, and they spread the floor out pretty well," Scott said.

Nets vs. Spurs at a glance


• Spurs - C David Robinson (6.8 pts, 6.4 reb), F Tim Duncan (24.9 pts, 14.8 reb, 5.3 ast),

F Bruce Bowen (8.1 pts. 2.8 reb), G Stephen Jackson (13.6 pts, 4.1 reb), G Tony Parker (14.9 pts, 3.3 ast).

• Nets - C Jason Collins (6.8 pts, 6.9 reb), F Kenyon Martin (20.7 pts, 9.1 reb), F Richard Jefferson (14.4 pts, 6.3 reb),

G Kerry Kittles (10.8 pts, 3.2 reb), G Jason Kidd (20.3 pts, 8.4 reb, 8.3 ast).

Regular-season records: San Antonio 60-22; New Jersey 49-33

Key reserves: Spurs: F Malik Rose (24.1 min, 9.8 pts, 6.4 reb), G Manu Ginobili (27.1 min, 9.7 pts, 3.6 reb). Nets: F Aaron Williams (19.2 min, 6.8 pts, 4.7 reb), G Lucious Harris (22.1 min, 8.3 pts)

Season series: Tied 1-1, each team winning at home. San Antonio won 92-78 March 6 as Parker (21 points, 10 in the fourth quarter) outplayed Kidd (4-for-19). Duncan had 21 points and 21 rebounds, and Ginobili had 18 points, seven assists and five steals. New Jersey won 91-82 Nov. 13, with Harris scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter to break open a close game.

Storyline: A toss-up series despite San Antonio being favored, one that should be determined in large part by New Jersey's ability to get out in the open court and run the fast break. San Antonio is seeking its second NBA championship; the Nets haven't won a title since they were in the ABA.

Key matchup: Parker vs. Kidd. The edge in talent and experience goes to Kidd, but Parker has lots of confidence for a 21-year-old. With the Spurs possibly targeting Kidd as a free agent this summer, Parker will have it: He could be playing for his job.

Weaknesses: The Spurs are a poor free throw-shooting team and have been prone to blowing big leads - especially in fourth quarters. The Nets will have a size disadvantage that will give San Antonio more opportunities for second-chance points.

Prediction: Nets in 7.

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