Tuesday, June 3, 2003

PG Parker will be speedy foe for Kidd, Nets



By Chris Sheridan
The Associated Press

[img]
New Jersey's Jason Kidd, left, and Kenyon Martin ride the bikes during practice Tuesday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
SAN ANTONIO - Nearly two years ago, shortly after hearing the Spurs drafted a French point guard, San Antonio forward Malik Rose learned that Tony Parker had his own Web site.

A few clicks later, Rose took his first look.

"It was weird. It showed him dribbling around. It showed his weak French dunk. He barely got his fingers over the rim. Probably a 9-foot rim," Rose joked Monday.

The Spurs also rag on Parker for eating his french fries with a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise, and for his bout of vomiting after eating a bad batch of creme brulee the night before Game 6 in Dallas.

But for all the teasing, the Spurs also give the 21-year-old Parker plenty of respect.

He will become the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to compete in the finals when San Antonio's best-of-seven series against the New Jersey Nets begins Wednesday night. Only Jonathan Bender (19, Indiana, 2000), Darryl Dawkins (20, 1977, Philadelphia) and Magic Johnson (20, Lakers, 1980) were younger.

"It's a dream to play in the NBA Finals. Three years ago I was waking up at 3 a.m. to watch the finals, and now I'm playing in them," Parker said.

His matchup against Nets point guard Jason Kidd will be one of the keys to the upcoming series, and it comes with an intriguing subplot. The Spurs will have more than $14 million worth of salary cap space over the summer when Kidd becomes a free agent, and it's possible they will offer it to Kidd.

Will it have an affect on Parker?

"I've been asked that question 500 times, and it's not going to bother me -the comparison and the matchup with Jason Kidd," Parker said Monday.

The speedy Parker does not even expect this matchup to be his toughest of the postseason. In his opinion, no point guard is more difficult to defend than Phoenix's Stephon Marbury, whose team defeated San Antonio twice in the opening round.

Kidd is not the same type of natural scorer Marbury is, but he's a better passer, rebounder and all-around player.

Kidd is averaging 20.3, 8.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the postseason to Parker's 14.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

"They were the best team in the NBA, so everybody talks about Tim (Duncan), and they should," Kidd said. "But Tony Parker is the key. When he plays well, they play well."

Indeed, the Spurs were 20-1 during the regular season and 4-0 in the first three rounds of the playoffs when getting 20 or more points from Parker, whose flashy speed and accurate mid-range jumper are his strongest skills.

Parker, born in Belgium and raised in France, is the son of an American father and a Dutch mother. His father, Tony Sr., played for Loyola, Ill., before moving overseas to play professionally in Europe.

Parker first saw his father's old Chester Highlands neighborhood on Chicago's south side when he was 6.

"It was the ghetto, it was really poor. It helped me appreciate the good things in life," Parker said.

He made his first big splash in American basketball circles at the Nike Hoop Summit in Indianapolis in February 2000, scoring 20 points with seven assists and two steals against an American team that included Darius Miles, Zach Randolph and Omar Cook.

Parker said Georgia Tech, UCLA and Connecticut approached him to offer scholarships, but he instead turned professional and played in the French League.

That league includes plenty of veteran players, allowing Parker to become accustomed at an early age to older opponents. Much older.

The experience has given Parker an air of confidence and maturity.

He was selected 28th by San Antonio in the 2001 draft, a low number for such an impact player.

"It's because I was a European point guard, that's why. Nobody made it before. They thought the point guard position was for Americans," Parker said. "I'm 50-50; they forgot about my American part."

Parker became a starter just 10 games into his rookie season and has held the job since, showing dramatic improvement along the way.

"Over the past five to 10 years - and especially the last five years - there are so many players from overseas that play the game as well or better than the American kids that it should be obvious to everybody, especially with our loss last summer in World Championships, that there are not only good players but good teams, good coaches everywhere," Popovich said.

The Nets were due to arrive in San Antonio on Monday night, bringing along a 10-game postseason winning streak, two shy of the record in a single postseason set by San Antonio in 1999.

They will have had a 10-day layoff when the series tips off Wednesday night.

"Everyone is ready to go," forward Rodney Rogers said. "We had all that down time, which is good and bad. You get tired of beating up on each other. Everyone's mood is real good."

Matchups

A position-by-position look at the matchups in the NBA finals between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets:

Center

David Robinson vs. Jason Collins. Robinson, playing the final games of his 14-year NBA career, is no longer the offensive and defensive force he once was. Averaging only 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, he will likely play fewer minutes than reserve Malik Rose. Collins, a second-year player from Stanford, is averaging similar numbers: 6.8 points and 6.9 rebounds. He is shooting only 37 percent from the field. EDGE: Even.

Power forward

Tim Duncan vs. Kenyon Martin. The two-time MVP vs. one of the league's best one-on-one defenders. Nets coach Byron Scott said he might pull Martin off Duncan if Martin picks up early fouls, which would be to the Spurs' benefit. Duncan is the better scorer, but Martin is quicker and thrives off Jason Kidd's passing. Duncan's size should give him an advantage on the boards. EDGE: Spurs.

Small forward

Richard Jefferson vs. Bruce Bowen. One of the key matchups in the series for the Nets, who have the superior offensive player. Jefferson is averaging 14.4 points in the playoffs, making him New Jersey's third-leading scorer. Bowen is the Spurs' best defender and loves shooting the 3-pointer from either corner. Bowen could eventually get the defensive assignment on Kidd. EDGE: Nets.

Shooting guard

Stephen Jackson vs. Kerry Kittles. A pair of streaky players who were once teammates in New Jersey. Jackson can hurt the Nets if he's left open at the 3-point line if Duncan is double-teamed, while Kittles is most dangerous when the Nets get into the open court and run. The Spurs need more from Jackson than the Nets do from Kittles. EDGE: Spurs.

Point guard

Tony Parker vs. Jason Kidd. A 21-year-old budding star vs. the NBA's best playmaker. There has been speculation all season that San Antonio will try to sign Kidd as a free agent over the summer, and this series will help the Spurs determine whether Parker will run the team for the foreseeable future. If the Nets need a clutch shot, they almost always go to Kidd. EDGE: Nets.

Coach

Gregg Popovich vs. Byron Scott. Two outspoken men unafraid to say what they think - even if it upsets their own players or opponents. Neither coach is comfortable going with more than eight players in his rotation. Popovich has more postseason coaching experience. EDGE: Spurs.

Key reserves

Malik Rose, Manu Ginobili, Speedy Claxton vs. Aaron Williams, Lucious Harris, Rodney Rogers. The Spurs get almost 10 points per game from both Rose and Ginobili, who will likely both be on the court in the fourth quarters of close games. Williams will play a key role against Duncan if Martin gets into foul trouble, while Harris and Rogers give New Jersey a pair of 3-point shooters off the bench. EDGE: Spurs.




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