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  • Doc Rivers
    Analyst, ABC Sports
    Glenn "Doc" Rivers, an analyst for Turner Sports following his retirement from the NBA in 1996, returns to the broadcast booth in 2003-04 as an analyst for ABC Sports' pro basketball coverage. Rivers most recently spent four years as head coach of the Orlando Magic, where he won Coach of the Year honors in 1999-2000, and played for four teams over 13 seasons as an NBA point guard, getting selected to the All-Star Game in 1988.

    On April 29, Rivers became the 16th coach in Boston Celtics history.

    Finals Thoughts: A Little Bit of Everything
    Here are some things I've noticed in the playoffs this year.

    Scoring
    First off, people have talked about scoring in the playoffs this year. A lot of people thought the Eastern Conference finals was ugly basketball. From a guy who has spent most of his professional career in the East, I thought the effort level was absolutely amazing.

    It looks like Detroit is starting to prove that it wasn't bad offense. It was great defense. The problem is, when people see misses, they see pros missing shots. When a pro misses a shot over and over and over again, people want to know why they're missing shots, especially open shots. I think people don't realize how hard the players are playing. I think people don't realize that if you don't get an open shot for a quarter-and-a-half, most likely you're going to rush it because you think someone is coming from somewhere.

    At the end of the day, when they see the final score -- especially someone who hasn't seen the game -- they hear someone say it's ugly basketball, they continue to talk, and I think it's too bad.

    X-Factors
    The new word in the playoffs has been X-factor. I used it before Game 1. Really, X-factor has taken the place of role player. I said that Chauncey Billups had the chance to be the X-factor in this series. He's been effective because of his size and his confidence against the Lakers. Historically, he's played well against the Lakers. This year he's played well against the Lakers.

    For him, I think it's a great matchup and he's taken advantage of it. I don't think the Lakers could do much about it. But I thought it was interesting that the Lakers put Kobe Bryant on him.

    Kobe Bryant, defensively, has been amazing, not only in this series but in every series. He's had a Scottie Pippen-run defensively and when you couple that with what he's done offensively, that's amazing. In Game 2, Kobe guarded Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, two different players and difficult for defenders to switch gears like that. And he pulled it off.

    I made a note after Game 2: If this series goes seven games, will that wear Kobe out or not?

    Karl Malone
    I've been in the league 20 years and Karl Malone has 18 years in the NBA, but I've never really known Karl Malone. I've known him as an opponent and I couldn't stand him. He was extremely physical, and at times he was borderline cheap. But that didn't bother me because he was trying to win. When a guy throws an extra elbow or tries to knock you down, I've always viewed that as part of the game, especially if you let him get away with it.

    It's like hockey. If you're not looking and you get checked, is it the checker's fault or your fault. So, I've always viewed it that way.

    But over the last year, especially this year doing TV, I have a new respect for him. The things you didn't know about him, you start to get to know. The thing that stands out to me is the professionalism. After being around him and talking to him, I understand why he has played so long and I also understand why he has played so well over his career. It's his professionalism, toughness and dedication.

    As for this Finals series, I think his injury puts him right on the line of being effective. I wonder. I watched him in Game 2 and I saw him tweak his knee. For the first part, he was too hurt to play. But then he came back and he found the energy or the will or the ability to ignore the pain. I thought they were his most effective minutes of The Finals thus far in the second half, when he could barely move.

    Basically, the reason he can do that is it comes down to that he's smarter than guys who are out there working. A young guy could not do this. Not because he's not tough enough, I think a lot of the young guys are, but I don't think a young guy has the knowledge to pull it off. Malone is playing on sheer knowledge now.

    Gary Payton
    I may be in the minority on this one, but I have no doubt that Gary Payton is still a fantastic player. It's a great example of a guy who's played a certain way his whole career and has had offenses designed to fit around him and then go to a different system that he's not the focal point, how difficult that adjustment is.

    People ask, "Well, why isn't it tough for Karl Malone?" Malone has always been a post player, he's always played at the elbow and he's always been a passer. Payton never was and never will be. It's not that Payton can't play, it's evident that he can't play well in this offense. But don't get the two mixed up.

    I hear people say Payton is done, he can't play any more. I'm in the minority, I disagree. I think Gary Payton, you put him on another team -- like the Pistons -- where the point guard handles the ball, he could play. But the focal points with the Lakers are in a different place and for Payton it's been very difficult and that's what you see.

    The end of Game 2
    Since the end of Game 2, I've been asked a ton of questions what should have happened.

    I've got to tell you, as a coach, 10 seconds later I would have been easy to say: "We should have fouled Shaq."

    I don't think, as a coach, I would have had the awareness to tell my guys to foul Shaq because I wouldn't have thought Shaq would ever touch the ball. I think as a coach going into that timeout, you focus on what you want to do. As a coach, I would have fouled. I'm not usually a believer in fouling, but I am a believer when the other team has no timeouts. That's been my rule. I don't like fouling. Too many things can happen especially if you're not a great rebounding team.

    Now, Detroit is a great rebounding team, but most important the Lakers didn't have any timeouts.

    What I try to do during games is: "What would I do?" or "What would I be thinking?" Or after games: "What would I be thinking?" I always take notes.

    I took the red eye to Chicago after that game and I tried to think that whole sequence out.

    No. 1) Ben Wallace should have fouled Shaq the play before Kobe's three. Shaq should have never gotten to the basket, he should have been fouled right away.

    No. 2) I would have allowed Kobe to catch the ball. My rule is once you get under five seconds, then foul. If that would have happened, Kobe would have had two free throws. There's no way the Lakers -- unless, Kobe makes the first one, misses the second and the Lakers get the rebound --- but that little amount of time and no timeouts, there's no way the Lakers could have got another shot off.

    That's what I would have done, but I think people are criticizing Larry about the wrong thing. If you want to criticize him about anything, it would be not fouling at all. The whole Shaq thing is ludicrous in my opinion. It's so easy later -- even I said it later. But I try to be honest about it, if I had gone into that timeout, the last thing I would have thought was that Shaquille O'Neal will touch the basketball.

    What Phil Jackson was probably thinking was that there was no way they're gonna foul with 10 seconds on the clock. I don't care who had the ball, with 10 seconds on the clock, that's too much time. The Lakers would have had too much time. They could have made one or two with 10 seconds left and then fouled Detroit with six or sever or even eight seconds left to bring the ball back up the floor, and I think that Phil Jackson knew that.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jun 10 2004 12:03PM

    In the Blink of an Eye
    The Lakers wrapped up their series last week and it just shows you how quickly a series could turn around.

    That series was the exact mirror -- exact mirror -- of the Knicks-Bulls series in 1993, where the Knicks, the team I played on, were up 2-0 and we got a three-day break. I really thought that three-day break broke our momentum.

    I think the same thing happened to San Antonio. That three days off broke their momentum. The Lakers had time to gather themselves and then the Lakers win two and there's no three-day break. There's a game every other day. The next thing the Spurs know is they wake up and they're out of the playoffs.

    It was a great series though. And one thing I notice from doing TV, Game 5 and on is when a series gets chippy. I've watched the two "nice guy teams" in the NBA -- Minnesota and Sacramento are known more for being finesse teams than physical -- and yet we've seen verbal jabs and elbows thrown. It's amazing how things can get out of control.

    But it's good when guys don't like each other and guys want to beat each other, as long as they don't cross the line. I thought Anthony Peeler's elbow crossed the line a little bit, obviously. It shows you how intense and meaning the playoff games are when guys who played together for five years and are friends are on the floor exchanging punches.

    As for myself, I was in many fights, unfortunately. My kids remind me of that all the time. One thing you remember -- and this is a warning to all players: What you do now will always be remembered by your kids.

    I pay that price all the time, in a funny way. When I tell my kids to calm down or keep control, they start rattling off, "Well, wait a minute. Didn't you have a fight with Charles Oakley? Didn't you have a fight with Kyle Macy? Didn't you have with Kevin Johnson? Didn't you have one with Reggie Lewis or Reggie Williams or Reggie Miller?" They name them all. What you do now is on the record.

    The Ending to Game 5, Spurs-Lakers

    I've never seen anything like that. It was amazing. The game was a well-played game by the Lakers for three quarters and the Spurs for the last quarter. You never thought the Spurs should have been in that game. I think the Lakers should have won that game going away. Then, I thought Kobe got tired and Shaq was stuggling and that allowed the Spurs to get back in it.

    Then, when Tim Duncan makes the shot, you think, "That's it, it's over." But that 0.4, instead of 0.3, was the difference in the Lakers' being in the Western Conference Finals rather than the Spurs. That tenth of a second was the difference.

    When the ball left Derek Fisher's hand, Al Michaels and I thought it had a chance. We had the perfect seat because we were right in line with Fisher's shot. And we both said, "Whoa." You could see that it had a chance. It looked to me like that ball was in the air forever.

    After the shot went in, and the Lakers were running off the floor and the refs were over at the scorers' table, three or four Spurs looked at me and signaled "Is it good or bad?"

    P.J. Carlisemo asked and I gave him the "good" signal. He turns and walks off. Another guy does it and then Duncan does it. He's waving his hands at me, "Is it good? Is it good?" And I gave him the signal and you could see him hang his head and walk off the floor. I turned to Al and I said, "I feel like the Grim Reaper over here. Everyone is asking and I'm giving them the bad news."

    After that game, I think emotionally, Game 6 arrived just too quick for the Spurs to recover.

    Here's a great example. I give the Nets a fighting chance because they have time to recover from their Game 6 loss to the Pistons. When you play every other day, it's tough. But when you drop a home game when you know you need to win, and a day-and-a-half later, you're playing again. I think emotionally, it's very tough to conjure up the spirit. You may get three or four to focus, but not all 12 guys. It just happened to quick for the Spurs.

    My New Job

    As for my new job, the Boston Celtics franchise excites me. There are only a few jobs that you can take that demand that you do well. The pressure of that is exciting to me. It's a storied franchise. When you get a chance to coach the Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys, you take it. I feel the same way about the Boston Celtics.

    It's a job where the upside is phenomenal. If you can turn this around, you can turn any job around.

    It's a great challenge for me in this time in my life. I was sitting at home and my wife asked me a question: "How many more golf courses can you play?"

    I'm 42 years old and it's a great challenge. I figured with the name the Boston Celtics and that type of franchise and my relationship with Danny Ainge if we can do things the right way, we can return this franchise to being what it once was. I love the pressure of that and I welcome the opportunity.

    I met Danny Ainge in the 1988 All-Star Game where we both played. I had played against him many times before that, but I didn't get to know him until then. From that point on, we really struck up a relationship.

    As far as my family is concerned, I don't think they'll be coming north, but it hasn't been decided yet, but it's the way we're leaning. My son is going to junior in high school and I think it would be for the best for him to finish out his time at that high school.

    It could be hard for me. I think it'll be much harder for me than for my family because they'll be with each other and I'll be by myself. People don't realize that's the tough part of our business -- as much as we move around. When you have family, you make decisions and your family has to pay the price.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - May 20 2004 2:17PM

    Ignoring the Signs
    The Lakers-Spurs series is a series everybody wanted to see and I've even heard some people call it the Finals.

    There's been a great buildup so far, but not great excitement. The games have not been what we expected so far.

    I think everyone assumed before the season started, because of the Lakers' talent, that the Lakers somehow had a switch and that they could turn it on when needed.

    It seems all season people have ignored signs of the Lakers not playing well and them not getting along. 'Well, it will be OK,' everyone said. Well, it doesn't look like it will be OK.

    I will warn everyone not to overreact to the Spurs winning two games. All they've done is hold serve. If the Lakers win two at home, then it's a tie series and Game 5 will be the pivotal game. Things turn quickly in playoff series. But the signs remain.

    We talk about all the changes the Lakers have made with Karl Malone and Gary Payton, and those are big changes as Derek Fisher's coming off the bench. Then, they lose Robert Horry. Luke Walton and Kareem Rush now play. Rick Fox doesn't play as much. They added Horace Grant, who did play, but is now injured.

    But no one talks about the Spurs' changes. The Spurs made just as many changes to a team that had won the NBA title the year before

    The question is: Why do the Spurs get along and why haven't the Lakers?

    I think that's the question everyone has ignored. The Spurs had injuries, like the Lakers this year. The Spurs made six new additions this season. Losing Speedy Claxton was huge. Stephen Jackson was a big loss. Losing David Robinson was huge.

    But when you look at this team play, you think they've played together for a long time.

    The thing that stands out the most, watching the Spurs play -- and if you want to call these two teams "new" -- it looks like they enjoy playing with each other and every guy has accepted his role. That doesn't mean every guy is happy with his role. As an example, Manu Ginobili does not like coming off the bench. But Ginobili comes off the bench because that's what Gregg Popovich asked him to do and at the end of the day, Ginobili knows that's what's best for the team. So, he's accepted a role he wouldn't have given himself.

    When you cross the waters over to the Lakers, that doesn't seem to be the case. You have a collection of talented individuals who have not accepted their roles. Kobe and Shaq have a role and that role hasn't changed and should not change. Everyone else should fit around that and it doesn't look like they have.

    The thing that stands out to me when I watch these two teams play, but it seems like the Lakers are not enjoying their craft right now. This doesn't mean that the Lakers can't win this series, I think they can. I wouldn't be surprised to see this series turn quickly and go seven. I really wouldn't. But sometimes body language tells the story and if you go by body language alone it's a team that's playing basketball but not really embracing the game or enjoying the game. Of all the things that stand out in this series, that's it.

    Warning: This series is far from over. It's a 2-0 lead by the team that had home court. Until a team wins on the road, the series does not start.

    Parker Perfect

    Tony Parker has been absolutely amazing. Coming into this series, it was said -- and I said -- everyone was going to talk about the role players. Would Robert Horry or Ginobili be the X-factor? I said from the very beginning, the X-factors would be how great the great players would play: Shaq and Kobe for the Lakers and Tim Duncan for the Spurs. I also said, put an asterisk next to Tony Parker's name. For them to win this series he'd have to go from good to great.

    He is doing it. He is absolutely dominating this series. He has been the single most dominant player in this series -- over Duncan, over Shaq, over Kobe.

    The thing that I find the most interesting is the guy most excited by this is Tim Duncan and that speaks volumes.

    The crossover on Devean George was a great move, but I thought more important was that his screen and roll play was even better. That crossover move was and is great for television and for my kids, who were copying it before they went to school this morning. My eight-year-old was saying "Parker." The Parker crossover is what he called it.

    Parker's play behind the screens, his patience coming off the pick and roll and resetting the pick and roll and using the screens were masterful.

    You Better Recognize

    I think the Sacramento Kings -- and I said this before the series started -- is a team that everyone has forgotten about. We forget that two years ago, if Robert Horry's shot doesn't go in, the Kings are probably world champions. We also forget that Chris Webber did not play in the playoffs and that's probably why they lost.

    Now, they're all back. Webber is not healthy, but each game he's getting better. I think we should start recognizing this basketball team. I can guarantee you that Minnesota does right now.

    Best? Defense? Ever?

    Detroit is playing better than any team in basketball other than the Spurs. And defensively -- and this may be a strong statement -- might be the best defensive team that I've seen. Maybe ever, when you factor in their length.

    Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, that combination is absolutely suffocating, and with Tayshaun Prince, those are the three guys who make a difference. Rip Hamilton alone is not a great defender and neither is Chauncey Billups. But when you have Tayshaun taking the best two or three every night and you have Ben or Rasheed taking the best four or five every night, the Pistons defend anyone else in our league.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - May 6 2004 2:08PM

    Better than all the rest
    Teams headed for the door

    Memphis is in trouble. This shouldn't diminish what they've done this year. They're still a young basketball team and they're still looking for that one guy to step up and be a star. I think Pau Gasol is their pick, but right now it looks like the Spurs' game.

    The New Jersey series is over, in my opinion. The only thing that bothers me about that series ... well, all the trash talking, I enjoy ... if the guy's playing. To me, what Tim Thomas did was a disservice to his team in a way, because if you're going to talk the talk, you have to at least suit up and walk the walk. It's almost like he started a fire, but didn't put on his fire suit.

    As a coach and a player, I never liked guys that talk unless you're going to go out and play. That's the only thing I didn't like. If he had something he didn't like about Kenyon Martin, that's fine with me, that doesn't bother me at all. I like it when guys don't like each other, actually. I don't go with that, "Oh, ho-hum, let's love each other."

    I didn't think it was a flagrant foul that Jason Collins put on Tim Thomas. I thought it was a hard foul without the intent of injuring. Unfortunately, he was injured. But that's playoff basketball and that's the way it goes.

    I do like the rivalry, though. For years, they've talked about a rivalry, but neither team was good enough to have a rivalry. Either the Knicks were way too good and the Nets were terrible. And now, the Nets have been way too good and the Knicks have been terrible. Now, since getting Stephon Marbury and a couple of other players, the Nets are still the superior team, but the Knicks are at least chirping now. It should be a great rivalry should the Knicks keep improving.

    The Nets are also playing better than anyone in the NBA. The Spurs are probably second and Minnesota is probably third, in my opinion. Those three teams are playing better than anyone. It doesn't mean one of those three teams will win the title, but they're the three hottest teams at the moment.

    As for there being only one lower-seeded team being able to break through with a win is pretty simple: the other teams are better.

    There are some close series, and I said on Mike and the Mad Dog, I thought the Milwaukee-Detroit series could be closer than people would give it credit for. Milwaukee is a team that can score points. Detroit's a team that falls into scoring funks. I thought that was a good overall matchup. I still think Detroit will win that series, but it's not going to be easy.

    I do think the Houston-Lakers series is pretty close, but we all think the Lakers are the better team. San Antonio is a better team, Minnesota is a better team. We assumed that there would be great first round matchups in the West, and I kept saying there wouldn't be any, because the West has turned into a top heavy conference also. There are some very solid teams at the bottom, but none of them can knock off the great teams at the top, except for Dallas against Sacramento. I also gave some hope to Houston, but that would be a huge upset.

    In the East, I'm a little surprised by the New Orleans-Miami series. New Orleans has underachieved all year, but they've had a million injuries. I know probably more than anyone that you can't do anything with so many injuries. Jamal Mashburn has been injured all year and Baron Davis is hurt again. They lack a fire I thought they would have.

    Miami may be the most enjoyable team to watch in the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy has done a wonderful job with that team. Give Pat Riley some credit, they're talented. That team is absolutely talented. But no one knew, except for Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy, that Dwyane Wade was this good. And he's the x-factor.

    With Lamar Odom, it seems as if all his troubles are behind him and he's playing to the potential that we thought he could. And Caron Butler is healthy and playing well. Eddie Jones is doing what he does. But they needed another guy to give them passion and energy and drive that engine, and that's what Wade does. Dwyane Wade is not only playing well, but he's also giving them intangibles and that's making them fun to watch.

    If you had to ask my kids what team they want to watch first, they would put the Heat first and the Lakers second. Which is pretty cool.

    I think Milwaukee has been the biggest surprise of the playoffs because of their split, but with Miami playing like they have has been great.

    Congrats, Hubie!

    It was really nice to see Hubie Brown get the Coach of the Year Award. I was split between him and Jerry Sloan. I wish there was some way they could have tied, but either guy winning would have been great with me.

    What impressed me the most was the passion that Hubie talked with on Thursday. He didn't talk about himself or his accomplishments. He talked about his passion for coaching and that stood out more than anything Thursday.

    The other thing that stood out is his love for the game. When you see a guy recite games that happened 30 years ago like they were yesterday, that tells you how much love and passion a person has for the game.

    I've met players and coaches who couldn't tell you what happened last week. But, that's not the norm, that's the exception. The norm is more people like Hubie than we think.

    Basketball, in my opinion, is an intoxicating game. You can see Hubie Brown has been affected by it. And it's cool and nice for all of us to see and we should take note.

    Playing Ball

    Yeah, sometimes. I'll tell you when I'm driving past a game or my kids are at the park or I'm watching them play or others play, then I think that's basketball at its truest form when guys are just playing and no one is coaching you and no one is overseeing you. I loved it when you lose, you sit. I love that brand of basketball when it's open basketball, you know something you can play for.

    That's why, for me, the playoffs are the best brand of basketball because if you lose you sit ... for months. And you sit and stew on it and think about it.

    As for playing, with my body, the thought of playing is few and far between.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Apr 23 2004 5:04PM

    Handing out the Hardware
    Here are my choices for the major awards this season:

    COACH OF THE YEAR

    This is the most difficult decision of all because we have a ton of candidates. Let's mention Milwaukee's Terry Porter, Miami's Stan Van Gundy and let's mention the Lakers' Phil Jackson and Sacramento's Rick Adelman because of the injuries and the records of their teams.

    But for me, it comes down to Memphis' Hubie Brown and Utah's Jerry Sloan. Hubie Brown has taken a team that is far more talented than the Jazz, but is also very young and has never done anything and has made them a bona fide threat in the West, which is not the conference where you want to build confidence in young players. Yet, Hubie has done that.

    Jerry Sloan has taken a team of no-names, besides Andrei Kirilenko and, their second-best player, Matt Harpring, who has been out all year. Even with Kirilenko and Harpring, there were some people who thought that they would not only not make the playoffs there were some who thought they had a chance to challenge for the worst record in NBA history. I heard that several times.

    For that reason, I would give a slight edge to Jerry Sloan.

    MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

    MVP is Kevin Garnett. I think he's done it all. You could make a case for Kobe in the second half of the year. You can always make the case for Duncan and Shaq.

    But Garnett had to fit in two new players who liked to score and he's done everything. He's not just been a scorer, he's not just been a defender, he's been a passer and a leader. He's done it all. For that reason, I think he's the one. He and Duncan have the same qualities, and that's what separates them from a lot of guys. They're great individual talents who understand that you can't win without your teammates.

    ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

    This is another tough one. As easy as it sounds to give it to LeBron James, LeBron has been magnificent and he's played better than anyone thought he would this early, but so has Carmelo. And Carmelo has improved his basketball team to a point where no one thought they would be.

    No one thought Denver would be in contention, where a lot of people thought Cleveland had a chance because of who else they have on their team.

    And then the third guy that no one talks about and I have him because he's from Marquette is Dwyane Wade. He's had an injury-filled season, but there's no doubt, that when Wade is on the floor, Miami is not only a playoff team, but a dangerous playoff team.

    That's the order I would go in with my vote. To me, it would be a great year to split it between LeBron and Carmelo and put Wade second.

    DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

    Ben Wallace. Ron Artest and Bruce Bowen are the other two guys who are in there. But Ben Wallace doesn't do anything but defend and rebound every night and he's still one of the most important players in our league without needing the ball.

    That fact alone makes him the Defensive Player of the Year.

    And the way Detroit is playing, we may need a new award called the Defensive Team of the Year. They are absolutely amazing. They may be the best defensive team I have seen in years. I go back to the Bulls with Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan and the Spurs with David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Sean Elliott.

    (That's the first time I've ever mentioned Sean Elliott and defense in the same sentence. It's almost an oxymoron.)

    MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

    This one is a tricky one. I have Zach Randolph as Most Improved, if you look at his numbers from last year to this year. In Zach's mind, it probably means most improved minutes. I've always thought, for the most part, the guy who gets the most improved player, look at how his minutes have increased.

    Then again, you can get a lot more minutes, but you have to do something with them.

    EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

    This is Joe Dumars. Over the last three years, I don't know who's done more with their basketball team than Joe. Kiki Vandeweghe should get a mention also. He's not only changed the team around, he's also changed the team's identity. They look like UCLA now and you have to credit Kiki with that. If you go to Denver now, they're talking basketball not Broncos. It feels like a town that believes in their basketball team.

    MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE YEAR

    The Lakers and the Kings on ABC (April 11, 3:30 ET) is a huge game for both teams. Coaches have always said home-court doesn't matter. But that's when they know they're not going to get it. If they get it, though, they understand it's big. I always get a chuckle out of that.

    It's big for the fact that Sacramento needs to get home-court advantage to have a chance to win the title.

    The Lakers have stumbled losing to San Antonio and losing to Portland, so the game means a lot to them one, to right the ship, but number two, it could mean home-court advantage for them. If the Lakers get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, it would make them very tough to beat.

    If they don't get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, then it opens everything up in the West and it will make it very interesting in the West.

    The Lakers, as good as they are and as well as they've played as of late, will still have some growing pains because they haven't played together that long. Every crisis is a new crisis for this team because it's not like they've gone through it before together. Shaq and Kobe have, but no one else has, so you don't know how each guy is going to react to anything different or difficult. Those are the things you learn when you play together during the regular season.

    Because of their injuries, they haven't been allowed to go or grow through that.

    Speaking of injuries, I don't think Chris Webber is 100 percent yet and I think that's obviously affected the team. I also think that Webber's coming back and losing is more the fact that Bobby Jackson went out. This team, we talk about the Lakers and their injuries and we talk about the Spurs and their injuries, no one has had more significant injuries than the Kings.

    Webber's been out most of the season and they keep going. He comes back and Bobby Jackson goes out. Those are two key guys on their team. They've yet to get it together 100 percent and Webber has yet to get to 100 percent. That explains why they've struggled more than anything else -- more than they've gotten tired, more than they've hit some kind of rut, which all teams do.

    They are still a team you're going to need to watch for a title. And if they get home-court advantage it will be that much more difficult for everyone in the West. They're beatable because they're not a great defensive team, but if they get home-court advantage, it makes it that much tougher.

    Last week, I had the Lakers and the Spurs, and the team that keeps staying under the radar is the Spurs. I think I may have talked about this three or four times this season, but it continues to amaze me.

    Tim Duncan is not your "MTV star" he's just a great basketball player. The way they play -- they're a hard-nosed great defensive team.

    Manu Ginobili does a lot of things you don't see in the stats but he's a guy who helps your team win.

    Tony Parker keeps getting better. All of their role players are building confidence. This is a team that believes it can win the title and I think we should all take notice of this. They've been playing great as of late and that's their "M.O." They struggle at the start and kind of take off after that and that's what they've done.

    Tim Duncan's injury, in a lot of ways, helped the team. They never won without Tim Duncan on the floor, this time they did and that really helped the team. Duncan made an interesting comment the other day that made me think "This is why he's such a great player." They asked him about their offense and they're running a lot of motion in their offense, and he said it's obvious that when I'm just another part of the offense, we're a better team.

    I was thinking, "How many stars would say that or accept that?" This is the quality that makes him a two-time MVP and a great basketball player, because as good as he is, he understands ball movement, sharing the ball and involving his teammates makes him better and makes his team better. He gets it.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Apr 9 2004 3:58PM

    Pursuing excellence in the West
    It's a slow week really, but the last couple weeks of the season tend to put a focus on several things.

    First, you go with the whole awards thing, but we'll get into that in about a week.

    Sunday, April 4, Spurs at Lakers, 3:30 ET, ABC

    It's going to be a good game ... a really good game. The Lakers have been anointed this year's title winners by some. They're going to have to prove that. All year, I think it's been strange that the Spurs have been playing well and no one has talked about them.

    But you're going to need to deal with the San Antonio Spurs come playoff time. Gregg Popovich has turned into one of the best coaches in the league. He has that team right where he wants them. He has them playing great basketball. Pop has done a tremendous job. They've had their injuries. Tim Duncan has been injured. Tony Parker started the season on the injured list. They still keep going. They were in last place at one point in the Midwest.

    Conceivably, they could end up with home-court advantage, but I don't think they will.

    When playoff time comes, the Spurs will remind us that, besides the Lakers, they're the only other team in the last five years to win a title.

    So this game have a lot of meaning in that way. The Spurs need every win they can to not slip in the playoff race in terms of home-court advantage and the Lakers are in hot pursuit of the No. 1 spot in the West. I think this is going to be a great game in terms of intensity.

    There are some questions that need to be answered. On the Lakers, who guards Tim Duncan? Who can? On the Spurs, how are they going to deal with the Shaq factor?

    The best matchup to me in this game is Bruce Bowen vs. Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant has been the best player in our league since the All-Star break. There's no question in my mind about that.

    But Bowen, to me, is the Defensive Player of the Year. So, you have one great offensive player against the defensive player of the year, that'll be a fun match up to watch.

    But more importantly, we're talking about the playoff races. It's not only who gets in the playoffs from this point forward, it's who the matchups are and who gets home-court advantage. I think things are getting real interesting in the West at the top.

    When you look at the Lakers and where they are at and where they've been and what they've been through, the fact they're tied with Sacramento, and they play them next week ... on ABC! ... it could come down to that. And who would have ever thought it would.

    A few weeks ago, Phil Jackson was worried about not having home-court advantage in the first round. Now, there's a chance to have home-court throughout until the Finals. That's a big switch. I really think the Lakers have an excellent shot of ending up with home-court.

    Phil Jackson will never get the credit he is due. They do have a ton of talent, but he had a ton of issues all season long. And to have the team in that spot is a job well done.

    No Singing the Blues in Memphis

    Memphis is a great story. I think a lot of people thought they would make the playoffs this year, and I was one of them. I thought Memphis had enough talent to make the playoffs in the West. But no one thought they would have the chance to get home-court advantage in first round in the West.

    First of all, Jerry West, to accumulate the talent that he has accumulated there is just a job well done. And for Hubie Brown to get young players to settle on roles and to get them to accept those roles, that's an amazing coaching job. One of the problems of rebuilding a basketball team, especially with a group of young players who have yet proven themselves as All-Stars, it's tough to sell roles to them. It's tough to tell one very good young player that another very good young player will be the go-to guy. Their take is, usually, "Well, why not me? I want to be the star."

    I think a lot of the franchises with young players have to fight and negotiate -- you need to try to sell the concept of team over the individual aspirations. And of all that Hubie did, more than the Xs and Os, that was far more important.

    If you look at a franchise that has tried to rebuild with youth, that has usually been the problem -- chemistry. Hubie has done a great job on selling the guys on roles, No. 1, and team, No. 2. I don't know how he does it. I think it is pretty clear that Pau Gasol is the best player, and I think that helps when it's pretty clear. Mike Miller could have been the guy saying "I want to be..." and Bonzi Wells could have upset the cart, and he hasn't, so he's done a nice job getting guys to buy into that.

    And they're a fun team to watch too. Hubie Brown's last few teams he coached were not enjoyable teams to watch. They were slow down, half-court, thuggish defensive teams. This team is up-tempo, athletic, pressing, pressure the ball, pushing the ball team. They're a fun team to watch.

    But the biggest thing he did was to get to Jason Williams. I think he's the key to the team. He led the league in assists-to-turnover ratio, I don't think three years ago, I don't think anyone would think they'd see those two things together. Give Jason Williams some credit, he's matured and he's turned into one of the better point guards in the league that no one talks about.

    He has as good a vision as anyone in our league. I've told people you can have great vision, but you also need to have great timing. You need to have great vision and great timing. He has both. That means he gets you the ball when you're open, not after you're open. He gets you the ball right when you get open and right when you want it. A lot of point guards don't understand that subtlety, but it's huge for a shooter.

    James Posey is the Grizzlies' Bruce Bowen -- Bruce Bowen with offense. He's going out every night and playing with energy, playing great defense, getting great stops, but scoring.

    You can give Jerry West a lot of credit as well. The Grizzlies are loaded. They're nine to 10 deep. There aren't a lot of teams that deep. Come playoff time it's not as important. It's nice to have 10 players, but come playoff time you get more rest and most teams shorten their rotation. It's not like you need an 11-deep roster. You can win with seven or eight because you play a game and get a day off or two days off. You get your rest in the playoffs, but it's a nice luxury to have.

    NCAA Final Four

    Everyone is picking UConn and I'm a big Jim Calhoun fan. I guess Duke's the other story. So, I'm going to go with the long shot Oklahoma State. One thing, and here's something to look at come draft time. Watch for Tony Allen.

    Some colleges do well in the NBA, in terms of their players. In this case it's not the college, it's the players who have played for Eddie Sutton. If you look back on those players who have played for Eddie Sutton, they're the exact same type of player. Sidney Moncrief, then go to Darrell Walker. Then go to Alvin Robertson. You can go to Desmond Mason. And now go to Tony Allen. They're the same-type of player and they all play for Eddie Sutton.

    They all have the same traits and that's because they played for Eddie Sutton. They're tough-minded, defensive-minded, team players and great rebounders for their size. And they all struggled early on in their careers with their shots and they all seemed to get it. They're just solid players.

    Posted by Doc Rivers - Apr 2 2004 1:23PM

    Mavs need a win ... and some defense
    The Magic are in an interesting spot. Coach Davis wants to do as best as he can to secure a job for next year. The players want to do as well as they can because they have a new GM who is evaluating talent. But every win, in a lot of ways, could mean one less ping pong ball. So, it'll be interesting to see how they end the season.

    The Mavs are really in a dog fight for home-court advantage. They're in it now with the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies, who have just made an incredible run over the last month.

    The Mavs problems -- you can see who they have lost twice to Atlanta, twice to the Clippers. They've lost to Washington, Toronto and Boston, and Philly this year without Iverson, Glenn Robinson or Derrick Coleman.

    Those losses will come back to haunt them. And you can trace it to the defensive end.

    I had the chance to watch them against the Nets. When you watch the Mavs, I get this question a lot, "Why are they so bad defensively?"

    I think one of the main reasons is personnel. They have great offensive players: Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison. But none of those four guys have ever been thought of as great defensive players, though I do give Walker some credit. I do see good defensive effort in his part.

    Besides the two rookies (Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels) and Michael Finley, this team isn't built to play good defense. They're skilled but not great athletes. That, and they have no shot blocker besides Shawn Bradley.

    When you have a makeup like that, usually a bad transition defensive team, which they are. Usually you're a bad on-the-ball defensive team and there are no stoppers on that team, though Finley can be at times and the two rookies have a chance ... though they're rookies. And then with the lack of shot blocking, which means no weakside help. They really have to outscore you or prove to us that they can get key defensive stops.

    This is a huge game for them, a game they really can't afford to lose. They wanted to go 5-0 on this road trip, but they've already lost one to Philly and that was a really bad loss. It will be interesting to see what they do on the rest of the East Coast trip.

    (Editor's note: The Mavs also lost on Wednesday night to the Pacers.)

    Why do good teams play down to a bad team's level and why can't the understand the importance of the game? I think they can, but deep down, I think they think they're going to win the game. I think the sense of urgency is what's very difficult for a coach -- over the course of an 82-game season -- to get his players to see every night as important. The coach sees it. Sometimes the players don't. It's difficult to get that every night. You just hope on those nights that you don't have it your team is talented enough to win. There are very few teams that good.

    There were nights, when I was a player, where you didn't feel it. That's being human. Those were the nights that I thought as a player I really tried to fight it. Some of those nights I played well and some of those nights I played poorly. I will say this, I wasn't because I didn't know it, I just couldn't do it ... I didn't have it. Then, you hope some of your teammates have it.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Mar 26 2004 1:46PM

    Playoff races to the finish
    Some of the races in the league are interesting.

    At the bottom, it's who is going to get the best lottery picks. That's a race I don't even want to mention because I never thought the team that played the worst should get the best pick. I don't think you should be rewarded for being bad.

    I understand why it's set up that way -- so those teams have a chance to get better. I've always thought whoever didn't make the playoffs should get the same amount of balls for the lottery. I think it sets up for teams not constantly wanting to win. I don't think you should get any reward for being bad.

    At the top in the West, the Lakers are a team to watch. They could end up with homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. If they do it and they're healthy, they'd be very tough to beat. It's amazing what the Lakers have done: Shaq missing games. Kobe missing games. Karl Malone missing most of the season. The Lakers are only 2½ behind Sacramento.

    Home-court advantage in the West will be huge and the only team who can win without home-court advantage are the Lakers because of their experience.

    When you talk about the eighth spot in the West, Denver has really struggled as of late and when you talk about trends, Portland is trending the best. Utah and Jerry Sloan are just a terrific story in our league this year. They lose Matt Harpring for the year after losing Karl Malone and John Stockton in the offseason. And that they're right there in the playoff race tells you that Jerry Sloan is one of the best -- if not the best -- coaches in our league.

    And finally, the other feel-good story is Memphis.

    In the East, I would hate to say I'm cheering for a team, but I am. I would like to see Cleveland make it because I would like to see LeBron James -- I would like to see Carmelo also -- in the playoffs. Those two guys remind me a lot of Bird and Magic when they come in. These two guys have come in and set the league on fire. It would be nice to see either of them make it.

    Philly, with all the problems they've been having, looks like the team that'll drop out of the Eastern race. Boston is up and down, but right there. With Paul Pierce, Boston has a chance. And they have a ton of injuries. Just think if Raef LaFrentz were playing right now. You could make that case that Boston would be in pretty easily.

    With Cleveland and New York, those two are just going up and down in the standings. They're making it very interesting.

    The most dangerous team in the East is New Orleans. You can make a case for the last three or four years, because they've had a lot of injuries, they haven't reached their potential. But when the playoffs start, that team seems to be able to take it to a different level.

    For Indiana, the biggest question will be Jermaine O'Neal's health. But right now, in the East, the team to beat is Detroit. I think there are several teams at the top in the East that can beat teams in the West, so we'll see what happens.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Mar 25 2004 4:28PM

    Defense is the Difference
    The Nets are coming off a huge win against Sacramento on Tuesday night. That's a question they needed answered. During their (13-game) winning streak, the teams they played weren't very impressive. But you still have to win those games. Those games are still on the schedule and just because they were teams that were below .500 or not great teams, most teams still can't put a streak together like that.

    They went West without Jason Kidd and I think they did extremely well without Kidd. (Editor's note: Doc wrote this blog entry before Kidd went on the injured list on March 19.) But this is the big question for them: Can they beat the elite teams in the West?

    By beating Sacramento the way they did on Tuesday night has to give them confidence. The game is interesting because of the style of play from both teams. It's funny, the Nets are a running team and want to push it up, but after they push it up, they either score in the first six seconds of the shot clock or the last six seconds of the shot clock. Where Dallas is an open-court freelance offensive basketball team.

    The difference will be on the other end. Dallas has struggled all year defensively. And on this streak, where the Nets have turned around their season, it's been all about their defense, although they're looked upon as a fast break basketball team. They are a terrific defensive basketball team.

    Kenyon Martin makes them great. The whole team is athletic. Martin is athletic. Jason Kidd is athletic and so is Richard Jefferson. If you put three great athletes, who have basketball skills, on the floor at the same time and the desire to play defense, you have a pretty good defensive team.

    The thing the Nets lack is size, yet they get away with it because of their quickness.

    On offense, New Jersey doesn't have a great center and they don't have great shooters. Yet, they still dish assists extremely well, and to me, that is more impressive than Sacramento. Usually, when you don't have great shooting or a great big to pound the ball into, it's very difficult to compile assists, because usually guys need to take the ball off the dribble to the basket.

    Yet, the Nets still do it by moving the ball. And again, that goes back to the defensive end, because the Nets can stop you in a halfcourt game. When the Nets get stops and steals, there's no such thing as a halfcourt game with the Nets, because they are pushing the ball.

    As for Dallas, incorporating Antwan Jamison and Atoine Walker has taken time, but that's not a surprise. I've read all this stuff about Dallas and how disappointing their season has been and how they haven't won a lot of games on the road. Personally, before the year, I expected them to struggle a bit until toward the end.

    I don't think you make significant changes that they made and expect things to go smoothly. The difference between Dallas and Minnesota, which also made key changes, is Minnesota changed two guys and put them in the starting lineup to fit spots where the Wolves were weak before. In Dallas, they brought in more guys where they already had guys playing those positions. In a lot of cases, they have guys playing out of position just to try to get them minutes on the floor, so it's been harder for them to get going.

    So, I think the game will be played at a high pace, it will be an enjoyable game to watch, but the question will be "Can Dallas play enough defense to win this basketball game?"

    CAVS SURGING

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have caught my eye again. I think they are playing terrific basketball. It's impressive to watch LeBron James take a young team and be a leader and see the veterans follow.

    Paul Silas doesn't get enough recognition for getting that team in the right direction. Jim Paxson in the other key guy. A year ago, people were talking about Jim Paxson's job security. This year, he could be in the running with Joe Dumars for Executive of the Year.

    ANOTHER HUMAN HIGHLIGHT FILM

    T-Mac, to me, as his career is unwinding, reminds me more and more of Dominique Wilkins. He's a phenomenal scorer, the best scorer in our league.

    I think this year has been more difficult on him because the team hasn't won games. At times he takes shots he wouldn't take if he was on a winning team. But that's why he can score 62 points and I wouldn't be shocked to see him score 70. When there's nothing at stake, it's very difficult to guard a guy like Tracy McGrady. He's playing for a scoring title now and that's basically it.

    In a lot of cases I would have a problem with that, but with the way the season has gone, in this case, I wouldn't.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Mar 18 2004 11:45AM

    Lakers, Nets and Refs
    This weekend, coach Rivers is in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 7 to cover the New Jersey Nets visiting the L.A. Lakers (3:30 ET, ABC).

    It's an interesting game. I love games that are between teams that have played against each other within the same week or a week and a half because they played last Sunday in New Jersey. It's rare you can get a playoff-type game during the regular season, but this will be very much like that -- if Jason Kidd comes back.

    I think the Lakers -- Shaq and Kobe -- played with as much intensity in that game in Jersey as I have seen them play any regular season game in a long time.

    The underlying message there could be that the Nets could be a potential opponent in the Finals and it seems like the Lakers tend to take those teams a little more seriously.

    Having games this close together between two teams in different conferences is rare, but it helps you prepare for them because you don't get to see them a lot. For example, a team in the East might play a team from the West in January and you might not see them again until April. You never really get a feel for them.

    Shaq poses a huge problem for the Nets. The main reason, is obviously his size and the Nets are not a great outside shooting basketball team. They're a team that plays on quickness and a team that attacks the basket and attacking the basket is not the best idea when the Lakers have the Big Aristotle sitting there waiting for you.

    The key for the Nets in the game Sunday is transition buckets. The Lakers got into transition against the Nets and the Nets played half-court against L.A. There's no way the Nets can beat the Lakers in a half-court game.

    The Nets should continue to attack the basket, but they'll need to have success from the perimeter in order to win.

    The best-case scenario is to get Shaq into foul trouble. The next best thing is to get Shaq to defend pick-and-rolls and get him away from the bucket.

    They can continue to attack through the pick-and-roll. The key guy is not only the guy setting the pick, but it's also the guard who needs to get enough room because Shaq doesn't "show" (rush out to stop the guard) hard enough.

    But it should be interesting and it could be a preview to the Finals, but I think Sacramento, San Antonio, Minnesota and Indiana will all have something to say about that.

    An Official Protest

    I thought the referees protest last week was an interesting thing. Not from the fact that they stood up against the league, I just think we forget that the officials are a team also.

    We only see them in threes, but if you think about it, the entire group is one team. Whether it was right or wrong, that's for everyone else to decide, not me, but it reminded you the officiating group is a close-knit group of guys. Whenever you can get any group banding together, isn't that what teamwork is all about?

    I thought it was an interesting protest and it was pretty refreshing. I was absolutely surprised by it because first of all, we obviously know the call, but I don't think any of us know the real reason why Michael Henderson was suspended. It probably had something more to do with that, in my opinion. Either way, the cause and the effect made our officials -- it humanized them.

    Me, as a coach, many times, would look at them as robots almost and just couldn't believe they made that call. We forget it's a human game. They don't get to scream and yell when a guy misses a layup, but we scream and yell when they miss a basic call.

    Whenever a coach and ref argue, it's not personal. We all have personal relationships and every once in a while, it becomes personal at that moment, but I can tell you as long as I've been in the league, I've never had it where it stayed personal past that one game. And that's what makes our officials so good.

    I think NBA officials have the toughest job of all the major sports. Football is tough at times because of the out-of-bounds calls. Baseball's not tough at all because they have their own strike zone for each game -- no one knows from game to game. I guess a bang-bang play is tough, but the "charging" call in the NBA is an impossible call. It's a very difficult call to make. I just think the speed of our game and the power of our game -- and officiating Shaq -- has to be the toughest thing to do as an official.

    Now being back in the broadcast booth, I have plenty of time to look at replays. I can even take a sip of a Coca-Cola and make the decision and say, "Oh, that was a bad call." But when you're doing it in that split-second, it's a far more difficult call.

    During a broadcast, I have no problem saying if a call is a bad call, but I try not to if it's a call that can go either way. I think you have to say if it's a bad call because it's your job. I never, as a broadcaster, try to make the game about the officials. Referee Dick Bavetta told me, "The best thing an official can do is when you finish a game, people ask, 'Who were the officials?' That means you've done a hell of a job."

    But I think, I, as a broadcaster, have to be honest. I think you have to call a game like you see it. I don't think players, coaches or officials are ever upset at you when you're giving your opinion based on a fact. What gets people upset is when you're guessing.

    Posted by Doc Rivers - Mar 4 2004 3:15PM

    LeBron rounds out a stellar starting five
    I love going back to Madison Square Garden. To me, it's the only arena left that has history. You're reminded of the history when you walk through the hallways and you see the pictures all over the place. The Knicks, Celtics and Lakers do the best job of reminding people in the present of their great pasts.

    Last week, I returned and I got a chance to see LeBron James for the first time in person on Sunday while doing the ABC game. Previously, I had only seen him on TV and in the summer league here in Orlando.

    Watching him this summer, I thought he had a chance to be a great player, but I wasn't sure. After watching him on Sunday I have no doubt that's exactly what he's going to be, unless some unforeseen injury or circumstance arises.

    With LeBron, it is not just his athletic ability -- we all see that -- and that is not what makes you a great player. If that were the case, every track athlete and every football player would be a great basketball player.

    What stood out to me was more his basketball IQ and his basketball IQ not just for a 19-year-old, but for an NBA player, period. He plays the game at a great tempo. He sees the game unlike most rookies.

    The other thing that stood out to me was his power. If you look at Michael Jordan's before and after pictures -- first as a rookie and then toward the end of his career -- he had a great body, but it looked like he gained 15 pounds of muscle over the course of his career.



    Does LeBron belong among this group? Doc thinks he will ... soon.

    I can't imagine LeBron James adding 15 more pounds of muscle, but everyone adds strength as they get older. The fact that this kid is going to get faster, stronger and wiser has to be scary for every coach and player in our league.

    We all know you build up basketball IQ by playing the game, watching the game and studying the game. He's obviously done that, but some of it is God-given. He has the knack of having a great feel for the game.

    There are very few superstars that other players want to play with. Jason Kidd is the first one that stands out because of his great passing ability and the fact that everyone knows Kidd can make you better.

    Shaq's another one because of his size and you know if you play with a guy like Shaq then it makes everyone's life a bit easier.

    Then there's Tim Duncan, because he's such a selfless superstar. He's the ultimate team player and he's going to give up the ball when he's trapped. And the fourth one is Kevin Garnett. In my opinion, those are the four superstars in our league that everyone wants to play with, not only because they're great, but because they make the team better and they make you better.

    I think LeBron James is going to be the fifth member of that club, and very soon.

    One of the things that Eric Williams said when he first arrived in Cleveland was that he knew about LeBron's talent, but he didn't know LeBron got a charge out of making great passes to his teammates. And that's unheard of for a kid his age.

    In the first half of the season when LeBron was the point guard, it was like starting a rookie quarterback. With rookie quarterbacks, they see the game too fast. It will take them three or four or five years to see the game slower so they can make better decisions. The thing is, LeBron sees it now like it's his fourth year.

    When you talk about seeing the game slower, the game is being played at a million miles an hour, but you're at a place, at a calm, where you can play at that speed under control. You can make decisions that take a split second, but to you it seems like it takes 10 seconds to make, but in real time it is a split-second.

    I think it comes to all point guards, but it doesn't come right away. It probably took me a while to feel that I could play at any game speed and not feel that the game was rushed. Most rookies make tons of mistakes because they're going too fast and thinking too fast and they can't handle that combination.

    And for me, it came in bits and pieces. I think near the end of my second year -- and don't forget, I went to college for three years -- I pretty much had the game speed down to where I wanted it. It comes from within you and for some guys, it never comes.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 27 2004 11:31AM

    One night, four playoff teams
    (Doc talks about TNT's Thursday night doubleheader -- Spurs-Mavs and Kings-Lakers -- beginning at 8 p.m. ET)

    The Sacramento-L.A. game is particularly interesting to me because at ABC we have it as the last game of the season.

    And on Thursday, there are two great games because there's a chance two of these teams could be playing in the first round of the playoffs.

    Once again, the West has five great teams -- if you throw Minnesota in there. And one of those five is not going to have homecourt advantage, and two of those teams will play each other in the first round.

    So these two games have far more importance than playoff implications, as they both have importance in regard to the teams' psyches, especially in the Lakers-Kings game.

    The Lakers still aren't healthy, but they're healthier than the last time they played Sacramento. Every time the Lakers beat Sacramento it reinforces that "thing" that the Lakers have over the Kings.

    Every time the Kings beat the Lakers, it gives Sacramento a little more of a chance. I think Sacramento says they can beat the Lakers, and quite possibly they believe they can, but the Kings know they actually have to do it.

    Even without Karl Malone, I think the Kings need to beat the Lakers. I don't think the Lakers need to beat the Kings, because they have done it before and they believe they can.

    And I think that means that Thursday's game matters quite a bit. If Sacramento comes to the playoffs on fire and they're playing great, they're going to beat anybody. But what matters is when they get to that Game 7, and the games get close and the Lakers have that "We've done it before" feeling. That's why it's difficult to beat a champion.

    And that's why it's going to be difficult to beat the Spurs. Once you've done it, no one can take that away. It's tough to knock the swagger off the champion. You can beat the champion 10 times in a row in the regular season, but once the playoffs start, they believe they are the best because they've proven it before.

    The only way you can knock that swagger off is by knocking them out. Until then, it doesn't change. And the Spurs are playing great right now.

    Detroit held that kind of advantage over us when I was with the Hawks. That was the team we could never get by. And when I was with the Knicks, it was the hated Bulls.

    There was one year I was convinced it was our time when I was with the Knicks. I was reminded of it 30 times when I was in the Garden last week and I saw the Game 5 Charles Smith layups.

    Every time I go back to New York, I'm reminded of that series. Everyone blames Charles Smith, but what people forget was that that season the Bulls were a horrible free-throw shooting team. And, if my recollection is right, they only missed one free throw that entire game, whereas we (the Knicks) missed six or seven. Charles Smith gets the blame, but -- and this is tough for me to admit -- the Bulls played like champions in that game and made clutch free throws. We didn't.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 26 2004 10:58AM

    Good Time at the Garden on Sunday
    I think the game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET, ABC) is a great one.

    I have to tell you, when I signed on to ABC and they gave me the schedule, and I looked at this game -- New York-Cleveland -- and I thought, "Whoa my goodness, why are we doing this game?"

    Obviously, ABC knew more than us because this will turn out to be a terrific game.

    Isiah Thomas has brought the energy back to New York. Every single move he's made has been the right move and fans have hope again in New York City. And that makes this a great game because this is LeBron's first game in New York and Paul Silas has the Cavs turned around.

    It went from a game with two teams struggling to a game with two teams playing great basketball. Cleveland, I believe, will make the playoffs. They'll make a nice run at it. LeBron James will get most of the credit, but some of it should go to Paul Silas also.

    He has a young, tough and big team, one of the few big teams in the East. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a tough guy to guard and I think he'll be one of the keys in this game. I think they'll go down to him and make the Knicks decide how they're going to play him. Dikembe Mutombo's size should have an impact. And now, with Nazr Mohammed, the Knicks have two bigs to go up against Z. That will be interesting.

    The Tim Thomas vs. LeBron James matchup will be interesting as well. I'm not sure Tim Thomas will get the assignment, but it's my guess he will. Tim Thomas is long and athletic and with the Bucks, he was their defensive specialist -- if they had a defensive specialist.

    The biggest concern for Cleveland is guarding Stephon Marbury, especially in the pick and roll. One of Cleveland's weak points is defending the pick and roll, because Ilgauskas is very similar to Shaq in size and in movement.

    The Knicks' strength right now is that Marbury, with Jason Kidd, is one of the best pick and roll point guards in the NBA, so that's a great advantage for the Knicks.

    And Kurt Thomas is proving how smart he is. Kurt Thomas can shoot the basketball. He now knows if he runs out and sets the picks, if they show, which defenders have to do on Marbury, Kurt Thomas will be the recipient of a wide open jump shot. He's running around setting picks on everybody. It's a smart move by him and a smart move by Lenny Wilkens.

    With the pick and roll, you have to pick your poison. It's still the best play in basketball and it's the oldest play in basketball. It's still the most unguardable play in basketball, especially if you have two players who can really play the game. It's almost impossible to guard.

    And what most teams are doing and what Cleveland will do also is to take Marbury out of the pick and roll and try to rotate out to the Kurt Thomases of the world. If they're not making shots, they can live with it. Problem is for other teams, Kurt Thomas can make shots.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 20 2004 3:57PM

    Quick thoughts about All-Star Weekend
    I'd like to review the All-Star Weekend real quick.

    The dunk contest was good. The dunk contest was never that exciting to me and it still isn't. But, as much as you have about ending it, we forget, as adults, who is really watching the dunk contest. -- the kids.


    What was Doc doing in Milwaukee during All-Star Weekend? He was having his jersey retired by Marquette University.
    Mike Gryniewicz
    Marquette Univ. Photos

    I was watching the dunk contest while I was in Milwaukee and I didn't get that excited about it, but I have four kids. They thought it was awesome. That's where I think we tend to forget the little things like that.

    They thought Richardson -- the one off the glass between the legs -- had the best dunk. They liked the fact that an unknown guy like Fred Jones could win the contest.

    And for their father as a coach, it gave me great fodder for to tell them as important as dunking is, this guy doesn't play a lot. So, dunks are great guys and they're fun and exciting, so learn how to play the game.

    The All-Star Game itself was a terrific game. Slowly, it's getting back to being competitive. You're always worried about injury, but I played in one and it was extremely competitive.

    I thought the fourth quarter of this game was competitive. The guy who stood out to me the most was Kobe because Kobe played defense and got down and competed for the entire game. I think his competitiveness spills to others. I think one of the things we should celebrate with Kobe Bryant is his intensity. He's as intense as Michael Jordan was intense and I think that's really neat to see.

    The rookie game was disturbing. I think the rookies wasted a great opportunity to make that the best game of the weekend. I thought that had a chance to be a terrific game if they had just played. That would have been the most talked about game the entire weekend and instead they thought they made the All-Star team and all they made were the Freshmen and Sophomore teams.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 20 2004 3:32PM

    Last minute thoughts on deadline deals
    There will be a lot of talk about trades, but I don't think there will be any big trades. Atlanta is a team to watch, because they're creating cap space. Any bad team is a team to watch because they're trying to make any move they can, even if it's a small move.

    New York is not done -- if they can get involved. Rasheed Wallace is the hottest player out there. The Pistons are in hot pursuit and it looks like the Knicks would like to get involved as well. If something big happens Thursday, I think Rasheed will be involved in it.

    Other than that I don't see any big movement. You might see some one-year salary cap moves, but I don't think you'll see much more than that.

    I think in Atlanta's part, it was a cap move. Portland has decided to turn over their team and change it. I don't know if it helps either team, right now -- it probably helps Portland a little more right now. But I thought it was a smart move by both teams.

    I think it remains to be seen if Atlanta retains Rasheed. There will be a pretty good free agent crop this year and now Atlanta will have money. They actually have a chance to sign Rasheed, but also bring in another player. They can change that team around pretty quickly.

    Billy Knight has done a pretty nice job. From a team being strapped and stuck with contracts to a team moving up in the money category and moving up pretty quickly.

    As far as cap room is concerned, I think you should always try to win, even when you're trying to make cap room. I was in that situation with Orlando my first year. We made all those trades. They didn't count on us going 41-41. And in retrospect, I think that's why we added Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill and even had a shot at Tim Duncan, because they saw, that we were trying to save money to get them but there was success.

    Whereas the Bulls case, they did the exact same thing, except they had a horrible year. I think that makes players not want to come to you. I think players want to come to teams and coaching staffs that they can play for and win for.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 19 2004 1:10PM

    My All-Star Memories
    The first thing that comes to mind about my All-Star experience is that it was in Chicago (in 1988) and it was my hometown. That made it even more special for me.


    Doc Rivers and Michael Jordan celebrate after the East won the 1988 All-Star Game.
    Walter Iooss Jr./NBAE/Getty Images


    I remember our first child was only six months old. I don't think he enjoyed the experience as much as we did. There were a lot of people and a lot of noise. And I remember it being extremely cold. I think it was the coldest weekend in Chicago's history.

    I didn't know the players very well. Back then, you played against the opposing team, but you really didn't get to know them that well. The guy I sat with on the bus the first afternoon of practice was Danny Ainge, a guy who I competed against and really didn't like because he was like me -- very competitive and very tough minded player.

    And I got to know him and I found out he was a good guy. He was a lot like me as far as the way we did things. From that point on we had a budding friendship.

    I don't think I realized how much I accomplished until the National Anthem. I was standing next to Larry Bird and looking across at Magic, Kareem and Drexler. I knew that this was something special.

    Two things stand out about that game. One, was how competitive that game was. At halftime, Michael Jordan gave a pretty passionate speech about how we're not going to lose this game, especially in his own house.

    Then, I remember defensively, me and Alvin Robertson going at each other. That's when I realized this is not an exhibition, at least not now. I remember him hawking me all the way up the floor and I remember me doing the same to him. That's when I realized as much of an "exhibition" it was, we were all serious. I enjoyed that more than I thought. I loved it that we were getting into it.

    The other thing I realized, as incredible an honor it was to make the team, and I was a guy who always played team sports, and making the All-Star team was nice, but it was nice just for me.

    My teammates were back in Atlanta. It was more of an individual honor, you really celebrated it with your family, not your teammates. You realize the only thing you can celebrate with your teammate is winning championship. And I have to say, from that point forward, I always thought winning a championship is the thing I would have rather had done than make the All-Star team.

    Still, it was a great accomplishment and a great honor.

    I hope that the All-Stars remember what Michael Jordan preached to them in the last game. The game is fun game, but compete in the game, don't make it a showcase. Make it a competition. Last year's game, in the fourth quarter, became that. I hope the players remember, and if the players take anything from Jordan it should be how competitive he was.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 15 2004 12:42PM

    got milk? Rookie Game preview
    Everyone knows about LeBron and everyone knows about Carmelo. They're both having great years. Some would make the case they shouldn't even be playing in this game and that they should be playing on Sunday.

    Because they've been so popular, I think we've done a poor job of talking about the other rookies.

    The No. 1 guy that comes to mind -- if Carmelo and LeBron were not here -- I think my Rookie of the Year would be Dwyane Wade.

    (And this has nothing to do with my Marquette ties.)

    He's earned it and I would pump him up even if he hadn't gone to Marquette. But I think Wade has earned it and the injuries are the only reason that he's not more dominant.

    There are other players that come to mind. Washington's Jarvis Hayes, who I think is going to be a sensational player. He's been a little up and down. But he reminds me of a cross between Mitch Richmond and Jeff Malone. He has Richmond's body and strength and then Malone's shot.

    Dallas' Josh Howard and Miami's Udonis Haslem are this year's version of Carlos Boozer. Everyone passed on them in the Draft and now they're making everyone pay for passing on them.

    Then, the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich is going to turn out to be a pretty nice point guard. I think it's going to take some time. He's had some flashes of brilliance. He and Toronto's Chris Bosh have proven they are better than "projects with great potential." They can play now, especially Bosh, who is the anchor of the Raptors' defense.

    If they compete, this should be a great game. It's a small vs. tall Rookie Game. Ronald Murray, Tayshaun Prince and Mike Dunleavy have all taken a big step the year after not making the Freshman team and making the Sophomore team this year. They should be congratulated.

    But, in our league, size counts. Most All-Star Games are guard dominant, because they have the ball in their hands and they usually shoot the ball. But if the Sophomores use their bigs, they will win. Yao Ming, Amaré Stoudamire and Nenê, and in my opinion, the guy who is having the best season among the Sophomores, Carlos Boozer, are just too big for the Freshmen to stop.

    If you look at that Sophomore team, those bigs just pop out at you with their stats. If you look at the future of our league, the future is extremely bright as far as talent is concerned. The next step for these young players is to move from the state of getting individual stats to taking their team to the next level. There's never been a time in the NBA when we had so much talent. What we're missing are rivalries and that will come when the young talent starts winning and competing against each other. Once that comes -- and it's not far off -- I think our league will be back on top of the sports leagues.

    But, in the Rookie Game, if they compete, it has a chance to be better than the All-Star Game.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 12 2004 3:49PM

    Of All-Star reserves and Grizzlies
    First of all the starters are the starters because the fans vote for them, and as flawed as that can be sometimes, I still feel it's the right way. I still think the fans should have a say in the All-Star Game. They picked their starters and that's all that counts.

    As for the subs, let's just throw these names out there: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Stephon Marbury, Carlos Boozer, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Latrell Sprewell, Michael Finley and Elton Brand.

    Those are guys who are not on the All-Star team. And when you look at the two teams, it's a tough pick for anyone not to make it.

    But Rip Hamilton, to me, is an All-Star. His team is one of the better teams in our league. His team's record is one of the best in the East. And they only have one player on the All-Star team. At 27-21, Houston has two.

    So, Rip is the only guy I'm going to pound the pavement for and say it would have been nice to see him on the team. Hamilton's problem is that everyone else at his position deserves it as well. The only person you can look at versus Hamilton is Michael Redd. They've had very similar seasons, Redd is scoring more points and a deserving All-Star and his team is one of the bigger surprises in the NBA.

    The bottom line is: There are only 12 spots on the All-Star team. That's what makes it so elite. There will be some guys who may have All-Star numbers you can make an argument for, but it's an elite team.

    As far as T.J. Ford not making the got milk? Rookie Challenge, it's amazing to me. This is a guy playing for a 26-22 basketball team as a rookie and is a big contributor. That was the biggest omission on the rookie team.

    You can make an argument for Keith Bogans, too, the way he's been playing well.

    As part of the group that voted for the rookie game, I did vote for T.J. Ford. I was surprised. I thought he was on there with ease. Then again, it's the same thing, it's such a small team.

    And you have to remember, when you're voting for the rookie game or the All-Star team, you're not voting for the best 12 players. You're voting for the best three or four at each position. To make it a team, you have to have two centers on, two forwards on, or four forwards, four guards and four bigs.

    If it was just the top 12, then it would be a little easier. Unfortunately, it would be nine or 10 guards in the game.

    And, finally, I want to talk about one team that stands out to me -- the Memphis Grizzlies. They have no one on the All-Star team and they're 27-21. It just tells you the job that Hubie Brown and the Grizzlies are doing. They have a bunch of potential All-Stars and you could make the argument that Pau Gasol should be on the All-Star team.

    They're a bunch of very good young basketball players, one of the deeper teams in the NBA and one of the more talented teams in the NBA. But, they are a team without an All-Star. They remind me of the Detroit Pistons two years ago.

    And they're all playing great. Jason Williams has a great assist-to-turnover ratio. Mike Miller has found his shooting touch. Bonzi Wells gives them another scorer. Gasol, Stromile Swift and Shane Battier -- they just have a heck of a basketball team. It's amazing what Jerry West has been able to do in two years.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 6 2004 12:14PM

    Back at the O-rena
    On Sunday (Lakers at Magic -- 12:30 ET, ABC), I'm returning to the TD Waterhouse Centre. I guess I can say O-rena now, but when I was coach I had to call it by its correct name.

    It's going to be really strange. When you get fired on the road you don't get a chance to say goodbye to a lot of people, mainly your players. And I have spoken to most of them since it happened.

    But I didn't get to say goodbye to a lot of people, including the arena people, who treated me well. I'll be able to see these people and get reacquainted with some pretty good friends there.

    It'll be fun that way, but strange in another way to watch the team that I went to training camp with this year play and have to sit there at halfcourt to see the game.

    And then, it'll be sad in another way. It's tough to see the Magic struggle the way they've struggled.

    In broadcasting the game, I know I can be professional, but I think the advantage it will give me is that I'll have insight that I can give fans that no other person will possibly have, at least on the Orlando side. As for the Lakers' side, to me, it'll be a normal game. But I don't know how many times I'm going to say, "We..." Other than that, I've been removed long enough now I don't think doing the game will be that difficult. But, being there and seeing the guys play may be the most difficult thing.

    As for the game itself, I don't think it's much of a game. The Magic are struggling mightily. Fortunately, for the Magic, the Lakers are struggling somewhat too. I'm hoping, for us, somehow the Lakers are struggling enough to make it a game.

    It's going to be tough for the Magic. If Shaquille O'Neal plays, and he will, and if Kobe Bryant can come back, in a lot of ways, that's the way the season has gone for the Magic. The Indiana Pacers, who have one of the best records in the league, get the Lakers with no Shaq, no Kobe and no Karl Malone. The Magic, with the worst record in basketball, face the Lakers with the possibility of everyone but Malone back in the lineup. That's just the way the ball bounces for the Magic this season.

    As for the players, Shaq changes the entire game. You can take Shaq off the Lakers and put him on any team in the NBA any team and make them an overnight contender. That's how important I think Shaquille O'Neal is to the Lakers. And that's how important I think the "bigs" are to their respective teams.

    When you look at the top teams in the league -- Indiana has Jermaine O'Neal, L.A. has Shaq, Minnesota has Kevin Garnett, San Antonio has Tim Duncan, Sacramento has Brad Miller, Vlade Divac and Chris Webber -- they all have key players at the big positions. The only exception to the rule is the Dallas Mavericks. They have an abundance of smalls. Dirk Nowitzki is a seven-footer, but he's still not considered a big.

    And before, when I said you could take Shaq and put him on any team and make them a contender, there aren't many players in NBA history that you can say that about. Wilt Chamberlain ... that's where I'm stopping.

    You could say Michael Jordan and I think a lot of people would argue Bill Russell. And the other guy in his prime is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But that's it. You notice that four of the five guys I've mentioned are centers. You can't teach height. If they don't grow them big, you can't get a big.

    And it's funny as a broadcaster, and I did this when I was a coach too, with every team that was not in the running to win the title, you hear the coaches, the fans and the media say, "We need a center." It was like you could just dial up a center. It just doesn't work that way.

    I never thought I would say that about centers, but when I was a coach, I'd say that every night.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Feb 5 2004 12:40PM

    Coaches on the golf course
    This is my life these days: I take the kids to school in the morning. Then, I hop on my bike, wearing my golf shoes, and bike to a course about a mile away from my home. (No, I don't carry my golf clubs on my back, I leave them at the golf course.) I get off the bike, I hit balls for about an hour and a half (I use my pitching wedge a lot). Then, I bike back home and do some work.

    That's the life of this coach.

    Being a coach -- or a fired coach -- I find it interesting and a shame that this many coaches have been let go. There are a lot of factors that have led to this, especially the East where all the firings have happened. In most cases, it's lack of talent with coupled with expectations. There have been a lot of changes.

    I was fired from a team that made changes of eight players. And of those players, three of them were rookies and two more were second-year players. So, of those eight players, I had five guys three with no experience and two with one year. You're not going to step out onto the floor and play well. When you factor in injuries, it becomes very difficult.

    Patience is the word. I use San Antonio, Utah and Minnesota as models. Those are the three teams that have stayed pat and stayed with their coaches. They've made some player changes, but they have a core group of players. They've built around those players and they continue to grow into solid teams. Those coaches have also grown into solid coaches.

    Minnesota was slow out of the gate and Flip Saunders has been in Minnesota for nine seasons, but he is, in my opinion, one of the best coaches in the league. Just because he hasn't won a title doesn't make him an average coach or a bad coach, it just makes him a coach who needs more talent to coach. And now, he has it.

    He's the best example, honestly, of what I thought we had the chance to do in Orlando. We had one star when I was coaching there -- Tracy McGrady -- and we had a bunch of young guys. The fact that we got to the playoffs was an accomplishment. Unfortunately, ownership wanted more.

    I've never seen turnover like this before, but if you look at the East the main reason is you look at the records in the East and it's easier to change coaches than players. A lot of records are bad and our record was bad in Orlando and so, they decided to look at what was happening now instead of the whole picture.

    With Byron Scott, that one to me, of all the firings, was the most difficult for me to understand in the fact that his team has been to the finals two years in a row and his team was in first place. It sounds like it was more of a relationship thing than anything.

    If you look at all the firings, they all came down to relationships. I think I was fired because my relationship with Magic GM John Gabriel wasn't a great relationship. Byron Scott was fired because his relationship with Rod Thorn, or more important, Jason Kidd, wasn't great. Jim O'Brien clearly left because his relationship with Danny Ainge wasn't great.

    But that happens. I do believe if you want to build a great franchise, the coach and the GM can get on the same page and trust each other and understand that they're on the same team trying to accomplish the same things, I think you can build a franchise and be successful forever.

    Usually, one of the two break down. The best example of that is what Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause had in Chicago, and it fell apart.

    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 30 2004 4:44PM

    Taking a look at the Kings and Spurs
    Interesting game with the Kings and the Spurs tonight, with the Spurs, obviously being the defending champions, and the Kings, who feel that with Chris Webber last year they had a very good opportunity to be what the Spurs are -- defending champions.

    There's still no sighting of Webber, and as good as this game is, it's still not going to be the game we would see in the playoffs if these teams met. With Webber, I think this series takes a whole different look. Without Webber, I give the Spurs the nod because of the matchup with Tim Duncan.

    As good as Brad Miller is and as good Vlade Divas has played, I think Webber matches up defensively, far better against Duncan than either one of those guys because of his quickness.

    Although the Spurs are 4-6 in their last 10 games, I don't worry about the Spurs, right now. I know a lot of people do and they worried about them earlier in the year when they struggled, but I think it's a by-product of a lot of change. When you make the changes they have and then had the injuries earlier in the year that they had, I think they're going to have some times during the year where they're going to have chemistry problems. Not in terms of personality or conflict just as far as the team getting on the same page.

    All of that is expected. This is one of those things that happen during an 82-game season. I don't like to make light of it because the coach doesn't panic, but every loss to a coach is magnified by that coach. It's not the state-of-emergency as seen by the media. The coach sees the problem that has to be fixed, and in most cases, if he's with a good team, he believes the problems will be fixed, but he knows it won't happen overnight.


    In an 82-game season, you're going to have some stretches where your team is out of sync. The great teams are able to win most of those games. The average team loses a lot of them. The bad teams lose them all.

    The Lakers lost four in a row at one point and people in the media acted as if the Lakers had lost the title. Basically, what they lost was Shaq, Kobe and Karl Malone from the lineup. To me, that was the most amusing one of all from the media. If you don't have Shaq, Kobe and Malone, you could be Knute Rockne as coach and you still couldn't win. This is a talent league. You win with talent and chemistry.

    I think one of the more overlooked things this year in light of all the coaching firings, you win with continuity and chemistry.

    In most cases of the coaches firings, those teams have made tons of changes. And the ownership or the GMs of those teams expected them to come out of the gate playing well. On paper, they may be good, but on court it takes time.

    And that's exactly the reason the Kings have played well without Webber. Even though the best player isn't playing, all those other players have played together and they know each other, with the exception of Brad Miller, who, by the way, fits great with them because he's not going to come in, hold the ball and change the flow of that team's offense.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 29 2004 12:05PM

    Talking Kings-Mavs, Pacers-Pistons and praising Carlos Boozer
    I'm doing the Kings-Mavericks game on Sunday (1 ET, ABC) and this should a great game and it should provide great entertainment. These two teams have a history having met the last two years in the playoffs.

    These are two teams that having been trying to take that next step. Sacramento is one of those teams that no one is really talking about. It's amazing what they've done with Chris Webber. I don't agree that Webber will negatively affect the chemistry of the team. I think adding Webber will be a positive for the Kings, not a negative.

    I think this should be a terrific up-tempo game. The key to this game will be how well Steve Nash can play. He needs to get his teammates involved. If Mike Bibby has a great game and Bobby Jackson can neutralize Nash, that'll be the key.

    Dallas is a different team now with Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison. They have different scorers and more weapons. Now, it's about how well can those weapons play together by the end of the season. They have great days and great runs, but come playoff time, will they be on the same page. Something like what Dallas has done takes time. So, people of Dallas, don't panic. Please give this team a chance to grow. They'll be good enough.

    Will they be good enough to win a championship, though? They have to show a greater commitment to defense and rebounding and they haven't proven that yet.

    As far as Sacramento and Dallas and whether it's the system or the players or the combination of the two, each coach has his own philosophy, whether he's defensive-minded and wants to control the tempo, thinking that gives them the best chance of winning by keeping it close at the end. People forget Don Nelson is a great defensive coach with those Milwaukee Bucks teams of the early '80s. But he's changed his approach and it takes a hell of a coach to do that. You just can't force a player into a system. He's decided that these guys are better under an offensive philosophy.

    In Sacramento, Rick Adelman has come up with a phenomenal system and it's a joy to watch. They're the best passing team in basketball and you could make the case that the Kings are the best passing team in basketball history.

    So, I'm looking forward to this one. That being said, it's often only fun if the game's close. I would take an 85-84 game over a 120-100 blowout. Give me a close, competitive game. If both teams are playing defense and blocking shots and competing against each other, that's why we play, for the competition. But, I'll take it either one. I will enjoy Dallas and Sacramento, especially if it's a close, high-scoring offensive game. Everyone likes scoring, whether it's football or baseball, but a 1-0 game between Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, that's not all bad either.

    Speaking of bad, as bad as people have said the East is, you could argue the best two teams in the league, not just the East, played Tuesday night. And it's true Sacramento doesn't have Chris Webber and it's a hard claim to make when Tim Duncan is still on the Spurs, but if you named the top five teams in the NBA, you can make that argument that two of the best teams -- Indiana and Detroit -- are in the East. This gives us hope that we're going to have a good Finals with Indiana or Detroit or even New Orleans would make a very good representative for the East. And you can't forget New Jersey either.

    I think Indiana has been on their way to being a great team for several years. They're growing right in front of our eyes. Rick Carlisle has done a nice job and it shows as his team has the best record in the East. Last year, they were on track, but they didn't quite get there.

    The key to these teams, Indiana, Detroit, New Jersey and New Orleans, being so good is that they've made very few changes. Those teams have set on a nucleus and added the role players around them. Continuity tends to help the core group of guys. You grow together, learn together. It's the right formula. It's OK to make subtle changes, but the longer you can keep that core group together, the better chance you have.

    Indiana, I think, top to bottom, you can put their roster up against anybody's. They could have the deepest team in the NBA.

    And finally, I hope everyone is taking a look at Cleveland's Carlos Boozer. Here's a guy, we as evaluators, picked apart during his college career. But this guy is having a hell of a run with 64 points and 38 rebounds in the last two games. He's not only a hell of a player, he's one of the better young guys in the league and it's exciting to see him play this well.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 22 2004 2:08PM

    Can the Celtics stun the Spurs Sunday?
    Well, the first thing is Paul Pierce healthy enough to play and healthy enough to shoot?

    (Peter May of the Boston Globe wrote that Pierce could be in the lineup Friday.)

    There are terrible matchups all-around for Boston in this game (Jan. 18, 12:30 ET, ABC) because of Tim Duncan and the Spurs' size. The Spurs are a great defensive basketball team and Boston is a team in transition. I think Boston has improved with the Ricky Davis trade. I think Davis is starting to feel out what he should do. And I think Jiri Welsch is the biggest surprise and Chris Mihm is playing substantial minutes, so there are a lot of positive signs for Boston out of the trade. I just think it's a tough matchup for them going into the San Antonio game.

    I think they key for the Celtics is the perimeter game. If Boston can get the perimeter game going, they have a chance to steal that game from the Spurs.

    One thing I think, the Spurs', even though they do a great job of guarding the three-point line and always have, defensive philosophy is to guard the three-point line, force everyone into the paint where their giants are. If Boston could squeeze out some threes and make them, I think the Celtics may have a chance of loosening up the defense and making it an offensive game and stealing the game.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 16 2004 5:48PM

    Making a point about Cassell and the Knicks' coaching change
    I'm doing the Houston and Minnesota game on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET) and it's a very interesting matchup. You have one team, the Rockets, that has a new coach and it looks like they're starting to turn the corner and they're starting to believe in Jeff Van Gundy's system. The defense has been sensational all year, but the offense is starting to catch up.

    You have another team who made a lot of changes in terms of players and those players are catching on in Minnesota. Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Kevin Garnett are a terrific trio of players and a very good mix personality-wise.

    They all play the game with high intensity and great passion. I think that intensity spills out through the team. The other thing about Sam Cassell is that he's a great big game player and that was witnessed last night in San Antonio. The bigger the game, the better Sam Cassell usually plays. He enjoys the moment. He never looks at big games like a pressure situation and that's why he plays so well.

    It's an interesting game because of Houston's defense against Minnesota's offense. There are matchup problems against Garnett, but then he's a matchup problem every night. An interesting matchup will be Steve Francis against Sam Cassell. I think Cassell should struggle against Francis' speed. I think Cassell should excel using his size.

    Is Cassell having an All-Star season? Sam Cassell, when you look at his career numbers, the first thing you ask yourself is, "How has this guy not made the All-Star team?" It's beyond me. This is the year he has to make it. The excuse in the past against Sam Cassell has always been that his team's record isn't good enough. Well, that excuse has been removed. Sam Cassell is outplaying every point guard, right now, in the West and maybe in the NBA and absolutely should be a no-brainer for the All-Star team.

    Another thing, I want to talk about the changes in New York. I found it absolutely amazing the media frenzy that went on in New York. I think every coach without a job had their name mentioned, including mine. And if I'm not mistaken, I think I even saw Knute Rockne's name once or twice too.

    I think it's a shame when a situation like New York happens, especially when a coach has a job and especially when that coach is Don Chaney, who I happened to play for in Atlanta. He was our assistant coach and is just one of the classiest guys in the league. Whether he should or should not have kept his job is not for me to judge. I will say this, I never thought he had a full complement of players because of injury. It was a very difficult situation from the first day for him. Again, that's not for me to decide. But what I can say is the way it was handled was not very good.

    But I think Isiah has made very good moves in New York. Whenever you can bring in a Lenny Wilkens, who is the winningest coach in NBA history and when you can bring in a Stephon Marbury, what Isiah has done is not only change the team, but he's also changed hope. New York has gone from a team that was called the "hopeless Knicks" to a team of hope, just by making some moves. When you do that, you have to say job well done.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 15 2004 12:23PM

    Marbury should make the Garden electric again
    I think it was a great trade for the New York Knicks. What Isiah did, first of all, is he changed the thinking from "Oh, the poor Knicks," to a team with hope almost overnight.

    It has gone from making the playoffs to winning the East in less than a week. And I think, a lot of what you do in our league, is confidence, like I mentioned yesterday in my blog with Tim Duncan. And perception.

    But the reality is the Knicks have added a guy who is a go-to player, is willing to take the big shot and is willing to take his own shot and create a shot for others. For the Knicks, it's been a long time.

    Keith Van Horn can get his shot off. Allan Houston can get his shot off and he can even create his own shot, but neither of those guys have the ability to make their teammates better by creating shots for others.

    Stephon Marbury can do that and that's why this trade is so important. And forget the salary cap. The Knicks won't be under the salary cap forever. What they need is players. The fact that they have Stephon, Allan Houston, Keith Van Horn, Mutombo and Kurt Thomas as a starting five, that's a pretty good basketball team.

    The Penny thing also is the other thing that's overlooked. Penny Hardaway coming off the bench is pretty solid. He's not the Penny of the past, but the Penny of now is a good backup player.

    Madison Square Garden should be alive. It's the only arena left that gets alive. And it's so important for the team and it's important to the players. There's such a huge difference between when there's a buzz and when it's dead. When there's a buzz, the players feel that too.

    As players, when you're a kid and you have those dream games in your backyard when you make your own noise, I think we were all talking about playing in the Garden. There is nothing like it. Nothing. It feels like you can feel the electricity.

    You can't wait to get to the game. In your own mind, and perception is reality, is the feeling that everybody, wherever you go that day, is thinking about it and they're talking about it. You feel the whole city is into that game that night and it's a powerful feeling. It's the best feeling you can have as an athlete. There's nothing better.

    Now, for the Knicks, it will depend on how quickly they can get adjusted to each other. The quicker the better. It's going to take time and people will need to be patient. By making a trade this late in the season and thinking, "Wow, the Knicks' season is going to take off," people will need to understand the Knicks will have to get used to each other and that will take time.

    But the Knicks' future is bright in my opinion.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 8 2004 1:55PM

    Confidence is crucial in the NBA
    Confidence is an amazing thing. I did the San Antonio-Sixers game last Saturday afternoon, and I witnessed the best player in the NBA shoot an air ball free throw and then follow that with missing the next six, none ever threatening the hoop.

    He went from a dominating force to being a passive player in front of my eyes. It was as if the Space Jam villains had come down and sprinkled him with dust.

    Tim Duncan hadn't forgotten how to play or lost his skills that made him superior to others. But for a moment, he was questioning himself. He was playing in the past, thinking about the last shot instead of staying in the moment and playing the next play.

    The mind is a powerful thing. You can have 60 great games, but the one bad one is the one you always remember. We can all recount the bad stuff in our lives but the great things we've done tend to slide away. Even the great ones like Duncan have an occasional hiccup like this.

    The difference is the great ones like Duncan have the method to move past it, the work ethic to work through it and the determination to face obstacles as opportunities and to defeat any opponent, where the average player with great talent can't move past the negative, at least not as quick. This is the reason for inconsistent play and them being average.

    It's a fine line from the best to the worst player in the league. Usually, talent has nothing to do with it. It's the strength between the ears.

    Which brings us to Nick Van Exel and Dallas. The Van Exel thing is now they're missing a backup in Dallas. That's the the way I look at it. Van Exel is a player the Mavericks absolutely miss because not only is he a point guard, he's a big shot maker.

    Van Exel has the swagger, the confidence. That's part of what makes him great, because he does think he's better than whomever he's playing. Guys like that feed through the team. He has a history of making (big shots). Guys mind others who take those shots but don't have the history and haven't proven that they can make those shots. Van Exel has proven he can make those shots.

    When Steve Nash is struggling or in foul trouble, or Dirk Nowitzki is struggling or in foul trouble, they need a guy who can create his own shot or create shots for others. Before, that was Nash and Van Exel.

    The Mavs have added a lot of quality players to their team. Antoine Walker can create his own shot pretty well and so can Antwan Jamison, but a guy who can create shots for himself and others is needed. That's what Van Exel does and that's what's missing.

    Creating your own shot is so important, because defenses are so good. You run your offense and the offense is designed to get shots for people. But if the defense can recover and take that shot away and that play breaks down, you need guys who can create their own shots and shots for others off the dribble.

    I think it's more important in the playoffs than the regular season. In the playoffs, it really shows. Teams that have guys that can create their own shots are teams that are very dangerous. In the playoffs, everyone knows exactly what you're running. They take away your first and second option and usually, your offense does break down. And it comes down to ball movement and skill. And when you have skilled players who can create their own shots, then you have a pretty good playoff team.

    Van Exel is in that group. There are two or three guys on every team that can create his own shot. If you take one away, you better replace him with another one or you're hurting yourself. Nash, Van Exel and Nowitzki were the three.

    Posted by Doc Rivers - Jan 7 2004 1:14PM

    Addition by subtraction in Cleveland, Sixers at Spurs and more
    I'd like to start this one with trades. Trades have always been viewed and commented on as to who received the best player and who didn't get the best of the deal. In the Cleveland-Boston trade, after a couple of weeks it's clear that sometimes addition by subtraction is a good thing.

    In Cleveland, it was clear that LeBron James and Ricky Davis were not going to work out. By getting Eric Williams and Tony Battie helped the Cavaliers become a better basketball team, even though you can make an argument about the Cavaliers giving up a star-quality player in Davis.

    But this is one of those trades that should help both teams. Paul Pierce needed a second scorer and got one with Davis. And Davis got a new address and a chance to re-do his reputation. I think Boston is the perfect situation for him.

    In Cleveland, the trade allowed LeBron to be the star and grow to be the star. It's amazing, but it seems likes he's already ready. So, this is a rare case where you have both addition by subtraction working for one team and a new start helping that same player.

    As for Saturday's game (1:30 p.m. ET, ABC), woo, do the Sixers have a hellish schedule. They play tonight on New Year's Eve and their game Saturday is the end of a five-game road trip.

    It should be an interesting game, but the biggest question is will Allen Iverson return? If he's not back, it will be a very difficult game for Philadelphia. San Antonio has the season's longest winning streak and is the hottest team in the league. So, I think it will be a difficult matchup for Philly.

    The Sixers want to slow this game down and make it a low-scoring game. Right now, San Antonio is scoring points in bunches. They're keeping an up-tempo pace and have done very well in getting the ball to Tim Duncan.

    When the Spurs run and score easy buckets, they're close to unbeatable. Last year, they did it with David Robinson and Tim. This year, it's a collection of players and Tim.

    One thing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich does is, and if you go over the statistics, Popovich is one of the best defensive coaches in NBA history. And when you play great defense and it leads to easy buckets, they're a tough team to beat. They're doing everything right.

    And I'm looking forward to doing this game. This is my second go round with broadcasting and I'm the luckiest guy alive. The first time around, the placed me with Vern Lundquist. I don't think there's a better guy I could have had in that first job. And then to go to the energy of Kevin Harlan and then work with Al Michaels, the voice of sports, on ABC, I know I'm the luckiest guy alive. Getting this job was perfect timing for me because I get a chance to work with someone special.

    In our first game, I thought it was strange. It was a great broadcast, but both Al Michaels and I were a little nervous. And I thought to myself, "Al Michaels gets nervous before a game?"

    And Al said, "How can you get nervous before a game, you were a player. You did basketball broadcasts five years ago. I haven't done it in 15."

    And that's why Al is so good. He has a passion about what he's doing. So, we both had a little nerves going into the first one, but it worked out great.

    I think we're going to form one hell of a partnership.
    Posted by Doc Rivers - Dec 31 2003 2:13PM

    Here Come the Spurs...And Don't Forget the Kings....
    San Antonio is at it again. They start out slow and everyone second-guesses the team. Then, Gregg Popovich gets that team in shape and they make a run. The last time they made a run like this, the Spurs won the NBA Championship in 1999.
     
    The Lakers are for real ? but so is San Antonio, Minnesota, Dallas and Sacramento. And no one is talking about Sacramento. We forget last year, Chris Webber didn't play in the playoffs.
     
    A good sign in Indiana is that they are 21-10 and not happy. Most people would view that as bad. I view that as great. For them, 21-10 is not good enough and Rick Carlisle understands that.
     
    The best story in the NBA is the Denver Nuggets, their coach Jeff Bzdelik and rookie Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo is one of the best rookies we've seen but never talked about because of the greatness of LeBron James. I think Carmelo has winner written all over him.
     
    There's a difference between being a great player and a winner. I think Carmelo Anthony will be a winner someday.
     
    Everyone is talking about scoring, scoring, scoring. Do we all have amnesia? All they talked about 20 or 30 years ago was how no one played defense. It's not about how many points teams score. It's about effort. It's about how hard you play. If scoring is down and effort is up, I'll take effort and being in the competition of a close game. I don't care if it's 31-30, I'll take the effort over scoring all day.
     
    Though, I do have to say, the in-between game is a lost art. It's the most important shot in basketball and it's the one least used. How many game winning layups did Michael Jordan have? Probably zero. Every one of his game winners was the in-between jumper and that's why he was unstoppable. If you're looking for blame for the loss of the in-between game, blame the three-point line.

    Posted by Doc Rivers - Dec 28 2003 9:30PM

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