ORLANDO, Fla. -- The ugly Game 7 exit by the Indiana Pacers reminded me of coach Larry Brown's comment earlier in the NBA Eastern Conference finals. Talking about the modern player in general and his own Pacers in particular, Brown said, "I don't know where they're comin' from, and sometimes I don't know if they're showin' up."
The Magic and Rockets are showin' up tomorrow night to start the NBA championship series, and here's some stuff to mull and ponder . . .
* Brown did a great job getting his limited Pacers as far as he got 'em, but you wonder if Larry himself showed up Sunday night. It killed the Pacers that Rik Smits was limited to 24 minutes, and he was limited to 24 minutes by Brown.
Smits finished the game with four fouls. If he was going to die, he needed to die in combat, on the floor, not on the pines. What was Brown saving him for? Game 8? Way too much bench time for The Clutch Dutchman, too early in the game.
* Nick Anderson, Magic guard, said he knew his Magic teammates were ready for Game 7.
"We had a shootaround [Sunday morning] at 10, and the guys were here at 9:30," Anderson said. "That said something about how we would play tonight."
That says something about the New NBA, that it would seem impressive that on the morning of Game 7, the players didn't straggle in to practice.
* Get worked up about the Shaquille O'Neal vs. Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon matchup if you want to. But be warned. There's a chance the two will never meet.
At times during their regular-season meetings, Olajuwon was guarded by Magic power forward Horace Grant, since the Dream is deemed too quick for Shaq.
And Wilt Chamberlain, who has been watching the playoffs with his usual keen interest and insight, says if he were coaching, he probably wouldn't have Dream guarding Shaq, because O'Neal is allowed to bullrush the basket and could put Olajuwon in foul trouble. Let some lesser Rocket pick up those blocking fouls.
What probably will happen is that the two big fellows will guard one another most of the time, but always with double-team help. And if fouls mount, look for scrambling by the coaches. I.e.:
"Let Shaq guard [Houston small forward] Mario Elie," Wilt reasons. "He's not going to kill you."
* Precedent for one great center avoiding confrontation with another: When Moses Malone was at the height of his might in the late '70s and early '80s, the Los Angeles Lakers seldom asked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to check Moses.
Good strategy, sure, but can you imagine Wilt and Bill Russell ducking one another?
Wilt, speaking from his Bel-Air Fortress of Tall-itude, isn't a huge fan of Shaq -- in part because O'Neal has rekindled memories of Wilt as free-throw klutz -- but Wilt has some advice for the big kid: Don't bite at Dream's bait.
"All that faking that Hakeem does, if you're Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain or Nate Thurmond, that stuff don't mean nothin'," Wilt said with no little scorn. "You just don't leave your feet [on defense]. You would see [David] Robinson fall for every fake, and Hakeem would dip around or under him for an easy basket and the foul. How do you allow someone to do that? Especially when you know for a fact the man likes to fake?"
Ah, but Olajuwon is also notoriously jumpy. The Magic coaching staff is reminding O'Neal that Olajuwon will leave him to try to block any Magic shot in the paint, and Shaq needs to be ready for the dish-off pass from teammates picked up by Hakeem.
* This may seem like harsh criticism of a fine performer. But Hulk Hogan is no Spike Lee.
Hulk is Shaq O'Neal's buddy and the Magic's courtside celebrity mascot, but he lacks Spike's innate ability to irritate the other team by making a complete fool of himself.
But give Hulk time. It took Spike a few years, studying under the great Arsenio Hall, to develop into the annoying courtside pest he is today.
* Shaq might pound on Hakeem like a hammer on a nail, but he means no disrespect.
Last time the Magic played in Houston, a photographer shooting a poster tried to get the two centers to pose glaring at one another.
"I told the photographer I couldn't do that," O'Neal said yesterday. "I told him I could do it if was David Robinson. But Hakeem? I just can't."
* Always the salesman, Shaq arrived at Sunday night's postgame news conference with Horace Grant and Dennis Scott and they simultaneously guzzled cans of the cola drink O'Neal endorses.
* You know you're in central Florida swamp country when the tap water tastes like alligator bath-water, and when, just as you turn out the light, you notice a caterpillar crawling across your hotel room ceiling.
Lesson: Never sleep on your back in Orlando.