Dikembe Mutombo's offense can't be ignored
On May 12, precisely 28 seconds into Game 3 of the
Atlanta-Detroit first-round playoff series, a remarkable event
occurred--the Pistons double-teamed Atlanta's Dikembe Mutombo.
The Pistons, who were down 2-0 in the series and hadn't been
doubling Mutombo, didn't stop there. During that first quarter,
every time he received the ball in the post, Detroit had two and
sometimes three defenders pressure the 7'2" center, who had
scored a playoff career-high 28 points in Game 2. His final
numbers in Game 3: eight points on 1-of-4 shooting in a 79-63
Pistons win. Using the same strategy in Games 4 and 5, Detroit
held Mutombo to eight and 12 points, respectively, but the Hawks
still won the decisive game 87-75.
Such attentiveness to Mutombo's offensive capabilities was
unheard of three seasons ago. The big fella was a mechanical
post player with only one move--a hook shot--and had a career
scoring average of 12.9. Detroit's mistake in the first two
games of the series was in believing Mutombo still fit that
description. Confident that they could contain him without the
double team, the Pistons watched in horror as he devastated
center Bison Dele, averaging 22.5 points and 16.0 rebounds and
shooting 76.9% from the floor, mostly from close range.
"I was all over him for it," said Atlanta guard Steve Smith, the
usual go-to guy on the club. "I keep telling him, 'Deke, I
remember you from Denver, when they put you out near the
three-point line and said, 'Don't shoot!'"
Mutombo is used to compliments about his defense; he is a
three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he led the league
in blocks from the 1993-94 season through the '95-96 season. But
the recent offensive flattery left him elated. "I look at myself
in the mirror, and I say, Is that Dikembe Mutombo they are
double- and triple-teaming out there? Or is it somebody else?"
he says. "I'm just congratulating myself for getting to this
His teammates warn not to get carried away. His offensive
weapons remain limited, and it's likely the Knicks will keep
doubling him and trapping him in the second round.
FRANCIS AIMS TO BE TOP PICK
Steve Francis no longer worries about answering his phone,
though it still rings incessantly. Every NBA lottery team
called, several times. Two teams that aren't in the
lottery--Houston and Atlanta--also rang. Then there were the
agents, both the major players and the new hustlers, promising
the star point guard from Maryland that they could secure him
the No. 1 pick--and more. "I've passed up money, cars, women,
you name it," says Francis. "It's crazy."
Not anymore. Francis has picked lawyer Jeff Fried, of
Washington, D.C., to represent him. Fried is a newcomer to the
NBA but has had former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe as a
client. Fried's advice for all the NBA teams hoping to score a
workout with Francis, a 6'3" guard whose killer crossover
dribble has triggered the inevitable comparisons to Allen
Iverson: Unless you are picking in the top three, you're out of
luck. "If everyone wanted to come to a gym and watch me go at
it, that would be fine with me," said Francis. "But this is a
business thing now."
The consensus among NBA scouts and general managers is that
Francis will be among the top five picks of the 1999 draft,
along with Duke forwards Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, UCLA
point guard Baron Davis and Rhode Island forward Lamar Odom, all
Coaches and scouts are stunned by Francis's explosive quickness
and his creativity in the open court. "When it's not a
five-on-five situation," says Maryland coach Gary Williams,
"he's very, very difficult to defend." His transition game
receives unanimous raves, but pro scouts want to know if he can
make the players around him better. Can he hit the perimeter
jumper consistently? Still, most say they are not overly
concerned about these questions, primarily because of Francis's
Sources say Francis would love to land in either Chicago or L.A.
(even with the Clippers), and he hopes to avoid suiting up for a
Canadian club. Yet what he wants most of all is for his name to
be the first called on June 30.
The Missing Link
PHOENIX NEEDS AN INSIDE FORCE
Two words explain why Phoenix was swept by Portland in the
opening round of the playoffs: Antonio McDyess. The defection of
McDyess to Denver as a free agent last winter left the Suns
without a tough inside presence, and it showed. In three playoff
games against the bigger, more physical Blazers, Phoenix was
outscored 86 to 48 at the line. The Suns exited in the first
round for the fourth year in a row.
The cap-strapped team will need a lot more than the $2 million
exception to lure a physical frontcourt free agent such as
Charles Oakley, Lorenzen Wright or Erick Dampier. That means
Phoenix probably will wait for the initial free-agent frenzy to
pass and then try to pluck its big body from a group that could
include Mark Bryant, Terry Cummings, Greg Foster, Jermaine
O'Neal, Bo Outlaw and Michael Stewart.
Meanwhile, the Suns' top priority is locking up free-agent
forward Cliff Robinson, who guards everyone from centers to
point guards. Phoenix could also use some more athleticism.
A Fine Line
PAT CROCE, SIXERS PRESIDENT
Speaking at West Chester (Pa.) University's commencement: "Who
says dreams don't come true? You're graduating, and the Sixers
are in the playoffs."
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBA PHOTOS Usually a fiery defender, Mutombo burned Detroit for an average of 22.5 points in Games 1 and 2.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Francis's speed and athleticism ensure that he'll be picked, if not first, at least in the top five.
Around The Rim
Count Golden State among the teams that will make a run at free
agent Mitch Richmond. Washington has said that it wants to
re-sign its shooting guard, but sources say there have been no
contract talks since the season ended....
Retiring Detroit veteran Joe Dumars's final gift to the game was
the advice he gave Philly guard Allen Iverson during the season.
Dumars says he reminded Iverson to keep doing the right things.
"He was very receptive," Dumars says. "Allen is what I call an
'environment guy.' Put him with the right people, and he'll be
Sources say Vancouver will be open to offers for its first-round
draft pick, in hopes of acquiring some veterans to add to its
young nucleus of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mike Bibby and Bryant (Big
Word out of Miami is that forward Jamal Mashburn may be on the
trading block. You can be sure that Heat coach Pat Riley hasn't
lost the number of Boston coach Rick Pitino, who coached
Mashburn at Kentucky and has tried to acquire him before....
Scouts predict that at the predraft camp in Chicago in June,
Duke's Elton Brand will measure closer to 6'6" than to the 6'8"
that the Blue Devils listed in their media guide....
UCLA's Baron Davis's downside, according to league general
managers, is that he's too much of a one-on-one player. But as
one Western Conference executive noted, "The thing we love about
him is he's got some of that Gary Payton nastiness that you just