Big Dog, Jesus, and the Alien Hand C's Another Loss

March 3, 2002

The situation seemed to call for at least a mild celebration. The Milwaukee Bucks came into Boston last Wednesday and beat the Celtics, a night after losing a close home game to the Lakers. It was a big win for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference.

Their coach, George Karl, opined that it might have been the most important win of the season. Glenn Robinson suggested it was a big victory because everyone had a hand in it.

   Then there was the team's newest starter and former resident scold in New York, Charlotte, and Miami: Anthony Mason. Asked about it being a big win, Mase rolled his eyes.

While many, including club officials and players, feel the Bucks have the right stuff to make a run at the NBA Finals, Mason, a 13-year veteran, thinks he is on a team of delusional thinkers. He sees a team of perimeter-oriented jump shooters, and in that, he sees certain elimination.

"We have got a lot of work to do," he said. "An awful lot of work to do. We keep misleading ourselves that we can win by being a jump shooting team."

Well, there's winning and there's winning. The Bucks will win more games than they lose. They will make the playoffs. They could well win their division again and might even get out of the Eastern Conference. They almost did last year.

Then they added Mason, who was supposed to give them some interior presence to counter the outside shooting of Ray Allen, Robinson, and Sam Cassell. Mase was a late addition and had to work his way into a new situation, his third team in three years.

He's getting playing time (or "burn" in the new NBA vernacular) at 38.5 minutes a game. Only seven players have played more minutes. His points and rebounds, however, are the lowest in eight years. He's getting 7.4 shots a game, down from last year's 11-plus, but that's not what steams him. He's wondering when the Bucks are going to discover that they need to have a post presence on offense to have any hope of winning the NBA title.

"Name me one team, one team, that ever won by taking jump shots," he said.

Uh, Chicago?

"That's [wrong]. Jordan posted up. Pippen posted up. They did it a lot. I know. I played against them. You gotta balance it out. You got post players on this team and you don't use them."

He made it clear this was not an appeal for more action. He mentioned himself, Robinson, and Cassell as players with post skills.

"We've got more than one," he said. "The ball has got to go inside out, not the other way around. That's how you get better shots. When I was an inside force, you got the ball inside first and that is how you win. I know. You're asking for my wisdom. I've been there. This perimeter [stuff] will take us only so far."

There you have Mason's lament. On a team whose coach occasionally resorts to ripping his players and whose players occasionally respond in kind, it's probably another ripple in the pond. And, if you look at Mason's history, his teams haven't done much in the postseason. The last time he was on a team that advanced to the second round was 1997-98, with Charlotte. His brand of ball

Chris Ford is home again and hoping the phone will ring with coaching opportunities. He just finished a "really enjoyable" year coaching Division 3 Brandeis. The team finished 8-17, lost its last six games and eight of nine, and still finished better than the year before. Ford was a late replacement and agreed to take the job on an interim basis. "I want to stay in the mix," he said. "I'm open to anything." Ford said he really enjoyed the teaching aspect of the job, especially given that there were times when players couldn't make it to practice because of classwork. "It's a unique situation," he said. "It's definitely academics first at Brandeis. And when we'd travel, there'd be a lot of time in airports and a lot of down time. I enjoyed being around the kids. I like that. And while the talent level isn't what you'd see at a Division 1 school, the attention and the willingness was certainly there." Ford found time during All-Star weekend to make it to Philadelphia, but not to attend the All-Star Game. That same weekend, Villanova, his alma mater, hosted UCLA, and the school held a reunion for players from the team that lost the 1971 NCAA title game to UCLA. Every player but one made it back . . . As the Celtics battle Denver and Golden State for the dubious honor of being the worst field goal shooting team in the league, the following is worth noting: In the past 22 seasons, no team finishing last in field goal percentage has made the playoffs. The last team to crack the postseason while finishing last in shooting was the Washington Bullets in 1980 - and that was when the first round was best-of-three. One interesting note concerning the decline in shooting. From 1980-89, the worst shooting team in the NBA still shot better than the current league average, which was 44.3 percent going into the weekend. One of the real oddities over the last 20 years was the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets, who led the league in scoring but were last in field goal percentage. That was the first of Paul Westhead's two years in Denver . . . There's no one happier than Hornets coach Paul Silas to see Jamal Mashburn back. Mash missed 42 games with an abdominal strain and, according to Silas, was concerned he wouldn't make it back at all. "It was a major concern for him," Silas said. "Because he's more in tune with his body than anyone on our team. And when anything is not right, he knows it." . . . No Surprise Dept.: Portland's Paul Allen is the NBA's wealthiest owner, according to Forbes's latest list of the world's billionaires. There were 455 fortunate souls on the list, including at least nine with NBA ties. Allen was listed at No. 4 with a net worth estimated at $25.2 billion. (In other words, the luxury tax doesn't bother him.) Miami's Micky Arison, who blew up his team this year over luxury tax worries, is ranked 103d with an estimated net worth of $3.6 billion. Also on the list were Philip Anschutz, co-owner of the Lakers (54th, $5.1 billion); Ted Turner, the Hawks' boss (97th, $3.8 billion); Stan Kroenke, the Nuggets owner who married into the Wal-Mart fortune (144th, $2.8 billion); Charles Dolan, the failed Red Sox bidder whose son runs the Knicks (180th, $2.3 billion); Minnesota's Glen Taylor (225th, $1.9 billion); Rich DeVos, the Magic's owner (258th, $1.7 billion), and Dallas's Mark Cuban (327th, $1.4 billion). Painful head games

The Rockets' Steve Francis is suffering from something that gives him debilitating headaches. He's missed five games and a number of practices and his plight has drawn many well-wishers offering cures. The most imaginative came from an elderly woman in Louisiana who said she gets rid of migraines by soaking a towel in refrigerated vinegar and then putting it on her forehead while lying in a dark room. Francis canceled a trip to the Mayo Clinic this past week. He's already seen specialists in four cities without a definitive diagnosis. However, it surfaced this week that he may have an ear condition controllable by medication and diet . . . What did the Magic do to the NBA schedule-makers? Orlando is on a franchise-record seven-game road trip, with each game against a conference opponent. Coach Doc Rivers said he'd never seen anything like it. "I don't know what we did to deserve it," he said. Actually, when the schedule was first roughed out, it called for the Magic to have an eight-game trip. They protested and got it cut down. Orlando is fighting the Celtics for playoff positioning and the two have a critical meeting Wednesday in Boston. That also happens to be the seventh of the Magic's seven road games, the second in as many days, and the third in four games. A Boston win would give the Celtics the season series, 3-1, which is the first tie-breaker in playoff seeding. The Celtics will have played only once in four days. Orlando, however, has 14 of its final 21 games at home . . . The Nuggets and Mavericks meet today in Denver, marking the first time the teams have played since their big trade Feb. 21. But real hoop-o-philes won't bother with that banal occurrence. The real attraction will be between Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer, the first two Chinese-schooled players to meet in the NBA. Seven-footer Wang has been with Dallas most of the season. Bateer, 6-11, joined the Nuggets after the trading deadline. He is a native of Mongolia but played for China in the last Olympics . . . Another game to watch this week: New Jersey at Phoenix, Wednesday night. It marks the return of Jason Kidd to his old hood. While we've been busy canonizing Kidd this season - rightfully so - it is worth noting: Kidd played four years in Phoenix and in three of those, the Suns won at least 50 games (the other year was the lockout year). Yet in only one of those years did the Suns win a playoff series; they knocked out the Spurs, who were without Tim Duncan, in 2000. Other than that, the Suns were 3-13 in playoff games with Kidd . . . The Raptors lost all seven games without Vince Carter after the All-Star break (the skid is 10 and counting) and are 2-13 in the 15 games Carter has missed . . . Two additional thoughts on the February trades: Not only did the Celtics give up awfully early on Joe Johnson, but they also gave away their first-round pick in what many scouts and personnel people feel is going to be a draft deep with point guards. And the Celtics could use one. When the dust settles, this is what hoop historians could see from that deal: Tony Delk for Johnson and a No. 1 pick. Rodney Rogers is not likely to be re-signed unless he agrees to play for the veteran minimum. Also, with Raef LaFrentz being dealt, that means only two of the top 10 players taken in the 1998 draft are still with the teams that drafted them: Michael Olowokandi (No. 1) and Paul Pierce (No. 10) . . . As the Heat struggle to make the playoffs and keep Pat Riley's playoff-perfect coaching record intact, here's a sobering thought: They have lost three times each to Cleveland and Atlanta, twice to Washington and the Clippers, and once to the Bulls and Grizzlies. SIDEBAR: AND ANOTHER THING...

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