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Archive for Sunday, May 2, 2004

Players weary of postseason waiting game

Pacers biding time during 11-day playoff layoff

May 2, 2004

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The glacial pace of the NBA playoffs produced a day without basketball Saturday, and the nine remaining teams -- seven of which already have advanced to the second round -- spent their time on practice courts instead of inside arenas.

"We're trying to keep sharp and keep fresh at the same time. It's a little bit of a challenge," said Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, whose team is going through a longer state of limbo than any other playoff team.

The Pacers, who completed a four-game sweep of Boston on Sunday, are awaiting the outcome of the Miami-New Orleans series to determine their second-round foe. By the time they play Game 1, the Pacers will have had 11 days off.

Game 6 of the Heat-Hornets series, with Miami leading 3-2, is today, to be followed by Game 1 of the second-round series between the Los Angeles Lakers San Antonio.

The NBA, fearing an entire weekend without any games, moved up the start of the Spurs-Lakers series to ensure there would be at least one game today in the league's national television slot on ABC.

The Detroit-New Jersey series will begin Monday, and Sacramento-Minnesota starts Tuesday. All four of those teams will have three days off before playing their Game 2s. The Nets and Pistons could have another three-day break between Games 6 and 7.

"I don't understand waiting till Friday (for Game 2)," was Pistons coach Larry Brown's first reaction upon seeing the second-round schedule following his team's clincher against Milwaukee.

Indiana, meanwhile, won't open the second round until Thursday -- even if Miami finishes off the Hornets today.

"It's a little difficult. I'm going insane. We're knitting our own uniforms," Pacers center Scot Pollard said.

"You definitely lose momentum, with a team as hot as we were. The team loses momentum physically and mentally, but the fan base loses momentum, too. It's like, 'Where the hell is Indiana? Those guys were kicking everybody's butts the last few games, and now they're not doing anything, so let's watch baseball or hockey or whatever else is on in the sports world."'

An NBA spokesman said the amount of downtime was a consequence of so many first-round series ending in five games or less.

Originally, the start dates for the second round were Wednesday and Thursday of this upcoming week.

New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd plays with his son, TJ, after practice,
Saturday, May 1, 2004, in East Rutherford, N.J. as they prepare for
their second round playoff series against the Detroit Pistons.

New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd plays with his son, TJ, after practice, Saturday, May 1, 2004, in East Rutherford, N.J. as they prepare for their second round playoff series against the Detroit Pistons.

"The finals are set to begin June 6, and at the earliest June 4, so instead of having one large break right before the finals start, we try to spread things out a little bit throughout the playoffs," spokesman Tim Frank said. "It's just the nature of scheduling, and trying to have a date for the finals that people can plan around."

For logistical and planning reasons, the league and its network partners in a six-year, $4.6 billion TV deal prefer to have set dates, with minimal flexibility, for the finals and the conference finals.

With the regular season ending April 14, that leaves a two-month period for four rounds.

In addition to the three-day breaks in the Sacramento-Minnesota and New Jersey-Detroit series, the Lakers and Spurs will play only two games in the first seven days of their series.

The stretched-out scheduling means there will be no doubleheaders on weeknights this week, unless the Miami-New Orleans series goes to Game 7 on Tuesday. Beginning next weekend, there will be doubleheaders for five consecutive nights through May 12.

"Once we get a couple games into the second round, most of those breaks will be behind us and we'll have a more normal schedule," said Frank, who also explained that the NBA has scheduled second-round Game 7s on the same night in each conference -- Wednesday, May 19 in the West, Thursday, May 20 in the East -- so that no team would have an extra day of rest if there were two Game 7s to determine a conference finals matchup.

One team that could benefit most from the scheduling is Detroit, which has several key players recuperating from injuries. Rasheed Wallace has an injured left arch, Corliss Williamson has a sore knee and elbow and Mike James has a groin injury.

"It's unfair to New Jersey," Brown said Saturday. "But the layoff for us will probably be a blessing with the injuries we have to some of our people."

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