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Original Issue

The Score on the Final Four

An opposing team's scout sizes up the strengths and weaknesses of the conference finalists


"IF SHAQUILLE O'NEAL can't stay in the lineup, the Heat will go to the pick-and-roll with Dwyane Wade or Eddie Jones, and they'll also run those guys off screens and along the baseline. But whatever strategy Stan Van Gundy uses, it won't matter; if Shaq's injuries limit him significantly, I can't see Miami winning this series.... The Pistons have more bodies to throw at Shaq than any other team. Elden Campbell didn't play much in the conference semis, but he'll be their third big man to use against Shaq, after Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess. Detroit has to play Shaq man-to-man; Miami's perimeter shooters are so good the Pistons can't afford to leave them open.... Alonzo Mourning and Michael Doleac set hard screens and are good on the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop. But Mourning is foul prone, and he'll have a much tougher time getting his shots off than he did against the Wizards. If he can average eight points and eight rebounds, that will be a good sign for Miami.... Detroit is going to try to build a defensive wall to keep Wade out of the lane. The problem is, if you throw two guys at him, he has the ability to find the open man.... There was a lot of talk early in the season about the Pistons' being hurt by the new crackdown on hand checking on the perimeter. But if you look at their three perimeter defenders, Chauncey Billups is the only physical guy; Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton are finesse players who rely on their quickness to play defense. They all can apply pressure on the outside because they know if they get beat, they have the two Wallaces [Ben and Rasheed] guarding the goal.... People have been saying since the start of the season that the Pistons' bench was thin, but I don't buy that. Lindsey Hunter and Carlos Arroyo are solid backup guards, and they have McDyess and Campbell to deal with Shaq. That gives them a nine-man rotation, which is as deep as anybody's this time of year.... If I had to pick one guy who could hurt the Heat most, it would be Hamilton. He'll force Miami to chase him and still get his 20 points."


"THIS IS THE one team that Phoenix didn't want to see. Game 1 [a 121-114 San Antonio win] confirmed that while the Spurs won't be able to contain the NBA's most prolific offense, their defense still can make the difference. It also showed that their bench will be a major advantage.... The contrasts here are startling. San Antonio throws the ball inside first before kicking it out, while the Suns play outside-in, spreading the floor with their shooters to create room in the paint for Amaré Stoudemire.... Stoudemire is the only rim runner for Phoenix-he's the only one charging to the basket on the break, while everybody else is fanning out to the three-point line. The Spurs are just the opposite: In transition they're all attacking the goal.... I've seen [San Antonio coach] Gregg Popovich jerk guys off the court and bench them for not making a third pass before a jump shot. I think the extra ball movement is going to be too much for the Suns' defense.... The Spurs were one of the worst teams at defending the three-point shot this season because they have a traditional pack-it-in D. But they've proved that when they put their mind to it, they can disrupt whatever you're trying to do. Steve Nash didn't even take a three in Game 1.... Phoenix has yet to make a defensive stand in the playoffs, but to be fair, you can't be everything-you can't be the top fast-break team and the top three-point team and also be one of the top defensive field goal teams.... Most of the time Tony Parker is going to be overmatched defensively against Nash. What he wants to do is move Nash left and right and not let him turn the corner on pick-and-rolls.... I've noticed that Tim Duncan has been jumping off his left foot but landing on his right to avoid reinjuring his ankle. It's something to keep an eye on to see how he's feeling.... No matter how the Suns play it, Shawn Marion is going to have to guard Duncan or one of San Antonio's centers. They'll just have to hope that Marion's quickness and leaping ability can make a difference."




Hamilton's running and gunning poses a huge problem for Miami.




Even hobbled, the 7-foot Duncan is a tall order for the Suns' Marion.