Give Pistons' mastermind Rick Carlisle two rounds of applause for exterminating one-man teams with various snares that surgically removed the rock from the clutches of Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson when it counted most. The trick will be to conjure up something reasonably oppressive regarding Jason Kidd.
Unlike the above-mentioned luminaries, when Kidd passes to any one of a half-dozen Nets, they're perfectly capable of accomplishing something profitable. Furthermore, Tayshaun Prince's length and live body, occasionally (you don't want to overdue it) may have reduced McGrady and Iverson to a pauper. Still, there's no one slicker at drawing the defense offsides and capitalizing on its unbalance than Hasten Jason.
(By the way, can you believe A.I. picked up his dribble at the end of regulation of Game Six when he still had several seconds to create a shot or draw a foul? Then again, Larry Brown's reckless technical -- "I knew we didn't have a chance when I saw you were referring," he spewed to Bennett Salvatore when the wrong Sixer was assessed a late foul -- cost Philly the win in regulation, so why should we be surprised by anything?)
Will Chauncey Billups' sprained ankle allow him to continue his impervious Drain Of Terror with so little time in between rounds?
Can Carlisle get away with assigning Ben Wallace to Jason Collins, which gives him the freedom to merrily roam the range and intercept Jersey's deer and antelope? Or will the perpetually flexing Kenyon Martin command Brawny Ben's unadulterated attention?
Are the Pistons poised enough to keep the series in slo-mo, which would effectively neutralize Kidd, Martin (while we have you here, Kenyon, your thoughts on Keith Van Horn's performance against Detroit?), Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles? Or will they be ensnared and bulldozed by the Nets' controlled defensive frenzy and indissoluble offensive style into playing at warp speed?
Whose bottomless bench will prove more fatal? Will Carlisle utilize Zelko Rebraca more often in hopes of luring Dikembe Mutombo out of a Byron Scott-induced retirement? Or does Shaq's fast fade away (so much for relying on the old standby motivation against David Robinson, who supposedly dissed O'Neal when he was in preschool) mean Mutombo is permanently inoperable?
Had the Nets played Moth Ball much longer Mutombo may have had to be carbon-dated. By my count, the Nets are in the midst of more time off than Bob Ryan.
The one serious snag on the Nets is that the Spurs were so flawless in stopping the Purple Reign, Kidd has decided he wants to play for them -- in the Western Conference finals.
Say this much for the Spurs, they came out much more fervently up three games to two than the Lakers did facing the first fairway. "I've seen that look," Del Harris remarked. "Hell, I've coached that look."
Maybe Phil Jackson can spend the summer pondering this, wrote an L.A. Times reader: "If the Lakers never showed up for Game Six, is their season really over?"
Contrary to form, Jackson complimented the victors for leaving no doubt about their supremacy in the series. Bill Bennett bet big Jackson would've attempted to devalue the Spurs' success by attaching an asterisk to it because Rick Fox went down and he was prohibited by league rules from replacing him with Tracy Murray.
Which reminds me, sources say Jerry Krause called Red Auerbach to congratulate him on Jackson's defeat.
(Peter Vecsey is a columnist for the New York Post.)