A whiff of new playoff trash talk takes on the smell of fine whine

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

April 29, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

For years, the TV talking heads have told us that the level of play gets dramatically more intense come playoff time in the NBA. That's true enough, but it's hardly the only thing that gets more intense at this time of year.

The level of talk, or smack, if you will, rises just as significantly each spring, and this year's postseason is no different.

The dominant subject of discussion, understandably, is the perceived inequity in officiating, with Dallas and Portland leading the way in chattering about the men with whistles.

The Mavericks have been charging Utah players with flopping to draw calls in their first-round series, a frequent accusation against the Jazz. And the Trail Blazers contend that Shaquille O'Neal has been powering his way over them in the middle in their series with the Lakers, leaving them helpless to stop him without referees' help, which they feel hasn't been forthcoming.

But while complaints about officiating are whines of predictable vintage, some of the talk is coming from a new part of the vineyard.

For instance, while any player who hits a last-second shot is compared to Michael Jordan, it's not every day that someone is accused of overstating an injury to make himself look like Jordan.

But that's precisely what Scottie Pippen accused Kobe Bryant of doing in last Sunday's Game 1 of the Blazers-Lakers series. Bryant was accidentally struck in the ribs by Rasheed Wallace in the first half and was taken to the locker room for treatment of a bruise before returning to score 25 of his 28 points in the second half.

"He's got bruised ribs? Which side? Aww, he's trying to be like Mike," said Pippen, referring to Jordan's performance in Game 5 of the 1997 championship series, when he torched Utah for 38 points despite having the flu. "[Bryant] wanted to come out and have a heroic performance after saying he had bruised ribs. It didn't look like he had bruised ribs. He didn't find a shot he didn't like. He wasn't hurt that bad."

Bryant, no doubt remembering Pippen's penchant for coming up small in clutch postseason moments, what with migraine headaches and taking himself out of the end of a 1994 playoff game because a play wasn't designed for him, sidestepped Pippen's attempted jab.

The best talk, though, has come from the Milwaukee-Orlando series, which has coaches Doc Rivers of the Magic and George Karl of the Bucks taking turns firing at each other.

Karl got things started a year ago, when he accused Orlando of showing no loyalty to its players by cutting down payroll to go after Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, and Tim Duncan. Rivers responded this year by reminding writers that Karl's teams in Seattle had a habit of underachieving in the first round.

Karl got even by accusing Rivers, a graduate of Milwaukee's Marquette University and a Chicago native, of "dissing" Milwaukee by taking the Magic to Chicago to stay after Game 1.

The Magic's Darrell Armstrong then got to the heart of the matter by urging his teammates to go after the Bucks with anything at their disposal, even bad breath.

"We need to be right in their faces," Armstrong said before Wednesday's Game 2. "We might have to go out and eat some onions."

Now, that's high quality smack, even if it is a little smelly. It didn't help though; Orlando lost Game 2, as well as Game 1.

Quiz

Of the 10 coaches with the most all-time postseason wins, only one has an overall losing playoff record. Name him. (Hint: He may be at the bottom of this list, but he tops another coaching category.)

Buzzer beaters

Apparently, all the talking being done by the Magic didn't help ticket sales for Game 3, because plenty of seats were available on game day. The same was true in Charlotte and in Phoenix, where Suns players went to local malls Friday to drum up sales for today's Game 3 of their series with Sacramento.

A tip of the cap to Karl, who, armed with a two-year, $14 million extension to coach the Bucks, gave out a reported $200,000 of his own money in bonus checks to office workers, assistant coaches, and other front-office personnel.

Stern leadership

The sporting world was reminded this past week why David Stern is the best commissioner in the business: He knows when it's prudent to do nothing.

Like baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who punished Atlanta reliever John Rocker for offensive quotes in a December 1999 Sports Illustrated piece, Stern could easily have dropped the hammer on Knicks guard Charlie Ward for his published comments about Jews that appeared in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, and many wanted him to.

But Stern, who is Jewish, realized that to punish Ward for what he said in a Bible study would not only violate the player's First Amendment rights to say whatever he wants but also serve to "enhance [Ward's] sense of martyrdom by penalizing him for giving him a public voice. He will have to accept the reactions and judgments of fans and all fair-minded people who have been offended."

Some may say that Stern, who fined Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and Sacramento's Jason Williams for offensive comments earlier this season, was being inconsistent for not also punishing Ward. But there was a difference. Both Williams and Iverson directly addressed fans at NBA arenas; Ward spoke to a private group with a reporter present.

It may be a slight distinction to some, but it was important enough for Stern.

Quiz answer

Though he is only 73-86 in the postseason, Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens, who guided the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1978-79 title, is the NBA's winningest coach, with 1,226 regular-season victories.

Quote

"We just have to play smarter. They know our sets better than we know their sets. We'd call [a play], and they'd know it by the time we got to half court. We have to play smarter."

Toronto forward Charles Oakley, about New York's preparation for their playoff series after Game 1.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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