- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Zzz.

Wake this space when it is over.

The three-knockdown rule was not in effect, just Todd MacCulloch, Aaron Williams and one of the Collins twins, Jason or Jarron. That comes out to a Canadian, a stick figure and a rookie against Shaquille O'Neal.

They represent a prayer instead of a hope.

The hack-a-Shaq strategy was the last of the prayers, given its diminishing effectiveness.

O'Neal's free throw shooting has improved in relation to how close he is able to fall toward the rim as he releases the ball on each attempt.

Sticklers have noted the infraction, which is fair enough. The official tendency to ignore it goes with the forearm growing out of O'Neal's back.

Judging by O'Neal's commercial ventures, the forearm growing out of his back is not a genetic deformity, only an act of helplessness by assorted parties that often goes uncalled.

There are two ways to defend O'Neal, three if you count the fetal position. There is the forearm to the back, and there is Vlade Divac falling down, forever falling down.

The Lakers are undoubtedly relieved to be free of the pests from Sacramento, Mike Bibby in particular. As the conspiracy theorists imagine it, the NBA brass is equally relieved after crunching the numbers of the small-market Kings.

The shelf life on sour grapes is longer than customary because of what passes as competence in the Eastern Conference.

This is the alleged NBA Finals.

Someone is expected to alert the Nets to the possibilities before Game 2 tonight.

The Nets showed up late to Game 1, the Lakers showed up just enough to complete the assignment.

It had the feel of a midseason game the Nuggets vs. the Grizzlies, perhaps. They threw the records out the window, along with the intensity.

The Zen master woke up just long enough to rediscover many of the names of the players sitting on his bench. The sight of Stanislav Medvedenko working up a sweat in the second quarter conveyed a message to both sides.

The Lakers decided to relax, and the Nets decided to spare Mitch Richmond the trouble of leaving his resting place.

The Zen master's march to Red Auerbach merits an acknowledgment, and something of an explanation.

The Zen master is sensitive to the fact that he has coached the NBA's three best players since Michael Jordan led the Bulls to the first of their six championships in 1991. The fact is not intended to be a charge, just a fact, as Auerbach recently pointed out.

The Zen master completed Doug Collins' handiwork in Chicago and repaired the dysfunction in Los Angeles, starting with the one-time fragile egos of O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

None of it has gone unnoticed, the Zen, the psychology and the talent. The latter is merely part of the context, the judgment subjective anyway. Basketball history will be kinder to the Zen master after he has retired to commune with Cochise on a full-time basis.

Not to be in the way of the Zen master's ninth championship, the Nets still have a chance to force a fifth game.

It would help if Kenyon Martin could make an open shot. Martin has vowed to keep shooting the ball, which the Nets and the rims should treat as a threat.

Make a shot. Pleassse.

The previously recorded directive from Bill Walton is appropriate.

Jason Kidd registered another triple-double in the playoffs, although he needed 26 shots to score 23 points. Keith Van Horn, the eyelid-heavy one who usually looks out of it on his best nights, was 5-for-14.

The three accidental shooters combined to make only 23 of 62 field goal attempts, which is no way to be around O'Neal's dunk shots.

The Nets claimed to be mesmerized by the grandeur of the event at the start, if not by the well-worked visage of Dyan Cannon at courtside. They are granted a pardon. Who wouldn't gulp hard with a history like theirs, and not to put it all on Yinka Dare?

The Nets have taken a deep breath. Now comes the hard part.


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