Knicks consider shuffling lineup

Down 2-0, New York looks for ways to cut Spurs down to size

June 21, 1999|By JERRY BEMBRY | JERRY BEMBRY,SUN STAFF

It was the day before the 1999 NBA Finals began -- and prior to the dominance of San Antonio Spurs twin towers Tim Duncan and David Robinson -- that New York Knicks guard Chris Childs was asked just how his team would conquer the size disadvantage.

"You get about four guys, and you kidnap one of them," Childs said, after a moment of pondering. "The other, you take care of him by putting something in his water."

Maybe the Knicks should have seriously considered such extreme measures, since the play of Duncan and Robinson has been the difference in the Spurs taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. Duncan is averaging 29.0 points, 15.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the series, and Robinson is averaging 14.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks.

The series shifts to New York tonight for Game 3, the first of three scheduled to be played at Madison Square Garden. And the Knicks are considering dramatic changes to avoid becoming the third straight team to be swept by San Antonio, which has won an NBA single-season playoff-record 12 straight games.

"We just got to get one," was Latrell Sprewell's response to the team's approach to tonight's game. "We haven't played well for 48 minutes. I think we just need to say `let's start with the first one at home.' We need to work hard on getting that one and then build on that."

To get that victory, the Knicks are considering lineup changes. Sprewell has been trying to persuade the New York coaching staff to allow him to play point guard, thus getting an offensive boost from a position where Childs and Charlie Ward have been ineffective, averaging 32.0 percent shooting and 5.0 assists in two games.

Neither has shown the capability or willingness to drive the lane, leaving the Knicks strictly as a team that whips the ball around the perimeter on offense.

New York practiced with Sprewell at the point yesterday, and that change might be possible at some point in the game, according to New York coach Jeff Van Gundy. But don't expect the Knicks to start the game that way.

The change that is most likely is inserting Marcus Camby in the starting lineup in place of Chris Dudley to have a better offensive team at the beginning. Dudley played just 13 minutes in Game 2 after suffering a hyper-extended right elbow in Game 1. A horrible free-throw shooter when healthy, Dudley practiced left-handed free throws yesterday and said he might shoot that way tonight.

Replacing Dudley in the starting lineup will still leave a mismatch on the court if Larry Johnson remains a starter at power forward. Johnson has been matched against Duncan or Robinson at the start of the first two games, and the Spurs have made the Knicks pay. Either of San Antonio's 7-footers is capable of scoring easily over the 6-7 Johnson, who is hobbled by a sore right knee.

"It's got to be tough because our size is so much more than theirs," Duncan said. "They kind of tire down a little bit, and we start getting some easier looks around the basket."

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he's not going to concern his team too much in what the Knicks do.

"I'm not anticipating them changing until I see it," he said. "We've played against adjustments all year, so both teams are already prepared for a variety of things.

"It's not like something that nobody has ever thought of is going to happen. It's whether we adjust poorly or well that matters."

One might say the Spurs didn't adjust well to the defense they saw in Game 2, when the Knicks doubled the post more aggressively and limited the Spurs to 80 points. But New York will have to make its biggest adjustment on offense, as the team shot just 32.9 percent in Game 2 and didn't score more than 19 in any quarter.

Sprewell scored 26, but hit just eight of 22 shots. Johnson hit his first shot, but missed 10 of 12, shooting more than half his field goals (seven) from beyond the three-point arc.

"We have to have our main three guys be more efficient," Van Gundy said of his team's offense. "I don't want them thinking about being down 2-0, and we have to win four of the next five games. I think all we need to think about is how we're going to win."

The Knicks are looking to win against a Spurs team that has lost only one postseason game, and is 6-0 on the road in the playoffs. New York is trying to avoid falling behind 3-0, knowing that no team has ever fallen behind by that margin and won a Finals series.

"We want to win this game and put this series out of reach," Duncan said. "Going down 3-0 would be a tough thing, next to impossible to come back from."

NOTE: NBC is feeling the effect of the post-lockout, post-Michael Jordan era, with its lowest ratings ever in the NBA Finals. After the lowest Game 1 rating in 13 years, NBC posted a 10.0 preliminary rating for Game 2.

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