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Inside The NBA


I guess I underestimated Tim Duncan." Suns coach Danny Ainge
ruffled his hair last Thursday night as he uttered that painful
admission. Minutes earlier Duncan, the Spurs' 7-foot rookie, had
dismantled Phoenix on its own floor in Game 1 of the teams'
first-round playoff series by scoring 32 points and grabbing 10
rebounds in a 102-96 San Antonio win. Facing single coverage,
Duncan tortured the Suns' forwards in the final quarter with
twisting bank shots, deadly pull-up jumpers and dazzling ball
handling that included a between-the-legs move. "He looked like
a point guard out there," said Phoenix forward Antonio McDyess

In the fourth quarter Duncan shot 7 of 9 from the field and
scored 12 straight points for the Spurs. Hot Rod Williams, who
had the misfortune of attempting to guard him, had seen only one
other rookie take over a game like that. "It was like something
Jordan would do," Williams said.

Yet, in the locker room after his finest hour, Duncan looked as
though he had just watched paint dry. "I was only taking what
they gave me," he deadpanned.

Other Spurs attempted to coax a smile out of Duncan. They told
him they were going to fill his shoes with cement to ensure that
his feet stayed on the ground. "But Tim is kind of hard to
tease," said guard Vinny Del Negro. "He's so level. A flat line."

Perhaps that's why, when the Suns swarmed Duncan in the post
with two pesky bodies in Game 2, he never looked flustered, even
though he struggled to kick the ball out and committed six
turnovers. Duncan finished with 16 points and 10 boards, but
Phoenix won 108-101. He reacted to this colossal letdown as
though he had just finished sorting out the socks in his drawer.
"We made mistakes, and we'll do better next time," the
22-year-old Duncan said.

But it isn't that simple for San Antonio. The heat was on the
Spurs as they headed into Game 3 on Monday night (a 100-88 San
Antonio victory), because unlike Phoenix, which wants to
advance, San Antonio must, or face more questions about its
toughness. "This idea of us being soft is totally false," says
coach and general manager Gregg Popovich. "These players aren't
like ones in the past. They bang every night."

Nothing catastrophic is planned if the Spurs lose. Popovich will
continue to pull double duty next season. Because the Spurs are
over the salary cap, no blockbuster free-agent signings are on
the horizon. David Robinson will continue to be the team's
leader--at least until the kid has been around a little longer.
There's no doubt, though, that the Spurs' future lies squarely
with Duncan, who summed up the series' importance like a man
waiting for water to boil. "I know how it works," he said.
"You're a hero one day and blamed for everything the next. I've
never gotten too high or too low. It only messes you up."

Replacing Hanzlik

Don't expect an immediate announcement on the next coach of the
Nuggets. With the futures of two marquee coaches--the Bulls'
Phil Jackson and the Sonics' George Karl--uncertain, general
manager Dan Issel will wisely wait before filling the position.

Last week Issel performed the unpleasant task of firing Bill
Hanzlik, whose locker was next to Issel's when they both played
in Denver. Hanzlik's nightmare season was marked by a pair of
flare-ups from rookie point guard Bobby Jackson, who cursed at
assistant coach Brian Winters during one game and refused to
check in when Hanzlik wanted to insert him at the end of a
blowout. Says Issel, "I'm looking for someone who in the first
five minutes of practice lets everyone know he's in total

While it seems pure folly to think the Nuggets can attract an
elite coach such as Jackson or Karl, the job isn't as bleak as
it looks. The Nuggets could be as much as $10 million under the
cap this summer, are assured of no lower than the fourth pick in
the June 24 draft and next season will regain the services of
forward Eric Williams, who was off to a terrific start when he
injured his knee in November and was lost for the year. Denver
also has an arena under construction, which is scheduled to open
in time for the 1999-2000 season.

The Nuggets' resurgence would be dramatically advanced by the
hiring of a top coach, and owner Charlie Lyons has told Issel he
will provide him with the money necessary to land one. Denver
sources say that Lyons favors Jackson, but the Nuggets won't be
the only team pursuing him if he becomes available. The Lakers
will want to speak with Chicago's Zen Master if Del Harris fails
to take L.A. deep into the playoffs.

Denver hopes that Jackson's love for the state of Colorado and
the fact that three of his five children attend college there
might be factors in its favor. "Did you know Phil's son lives
one floor below my son at the University of Colorado?" Issel asks.

Hey, it's a start.

COLOR PHOTO: BARRY GOSSAGE/NBA PHOTOS UP AND COMING In his playoff debut, Duncan torched the Suns with 28 second-half points. [Tim Duncan in game]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH OUT OF HAND The combative Jackson helped force Hanzlik's ouster in Denver. [Bobby Jackson in game]


Collector's Item

In his 10 years as a journeyman NBA point guard, the Cavaliers'
Scott Brooks has made sure to pick up a jersey from each of his
teams. The one exception: the Celtics, who waived Brooks so soon
after acquiring him in a multiplayer trade last fall that he
never put on a Boston uniform. When Cleveland visited Boston on
April 17, Brooks requested a singlet from the Celtics, the
seventh one for his collection. After asking for numbers that
were either in use or had been retired, he settled on 43, which
had been worn by the late Derek Smith, Brooks's teammate with
the 76ers in 1989-90.

For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to


If the Rockets lose out on the Scottie Pippen free-agent
sweepstakes, they may try to sign Mavericks forward Cedric
Ceballos, who has received an endorsement from his former Suns
teammate Charles Barkley....

Don't misread Heat coach Pat Riley's decision to leave Brent
Barry, who was recovering from a sprained right ankle, off the
playoff roster. Barry's injury prevented him from learning
Miami's system after he was acquired in February from the
Clippers. Riley would like to re-sign the 6'6" Barry this summer
and turn him into a point guard....

Bucks coach Chris Ford and his staff will meet with team owner
Herb Kohl early this month to discuss their future. Sources say
Ford received favorable ratings from his players during their
end-of-season meetings with Kohl....

The Hawks, who could use a scorer at small forward, may bid for
Suns free agent Dennis Scott....

The Pistons' coaching search was over before it began. Sources
close to Detroit management say interim coach Alvin Gentry will
keep the job with the blessings of Joe Dumars and Grant Hill.
That may leave former Pistons star Bill Laimbeer, who was
interested in the position, to wonder why he didn't at least get
a courtesy call from the team....

Agent David Falk has put the Hornets on notice that he wants
Glen Rice's contract reworked or his client will request (read:
demand) a trade. Rice has two years left at $12.4 million per.