Attack of the Eastern beasties
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Who wrote the book on this Eastern final? Thomas Harris? Stephen King? Philip K. Dick? Sick boy Clive Barker? Is Anthony Hopkins playing Jim O'Brien in the movie? Does Byron Scott have an assistant coach named Clarice? Is that bloody mask Jason Kidd's, or Jason Voorhees'? Is K-Mart "Godzilla"? Or more "Blacula" meets "Evil Dead II"?

Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd
Slashers: Paul Pierce, left, and Jason Kidd vie for the right to be sacrificed to the Lakers.
Getting mad ugly in a minute, either way. It'll be a horror show at the Staples Center. You'll wince just watching it.

The screaming of the lambs can be heard up and down the eastern turnpikes. Not to take away from the seasons had by the Nets and Boston Celtics, or from their grind 'em up series. One of them will soon become the rightfully proud champs of the Eastern Conference. They will then lay their necks over like the wildebeest they are, and become Laker fodder, bloody roadkill, after that. It doesn't take a direct line to the stars or Dionne Warwick to figure this one out.

Let's take a severed head count anyway, with Road Dog, who claims he's past mourning the Undead, a k a the Knicks, who missed the playoffs and Top 10 of the lottery.

***** ***** *****

R-Dub: "Dog, ever hear of a monster named Dick Harter?"

Road Dog: "Is he a doctor? Like Dr. Jack Ramsay, or Dr. Hannibal Lecter? Hope he's a doc; Celts are gonna need a doc, and a nurse too, if they meet the Lakers in the Finals."

R-Dub: "Dick "Fang" Harter coached the Oregon Ducks of the Pac-10 long ago. Stern. Teams played stern defense. Harter now coaches the Celtic D. He's like their guru of stops. Put together their amoeba D. It's like ... the Blob."

Road Dog: "I'm scared, Dub. Blob this. The Celtics? You serious? Outside of Walker & Pierce ... I see dead people."

R-Dub: "No, not really now. Rogers has skills, he didn't get Sixth Man of the Year a couple of years ago because he was trash. Williams can do some things. Delk can shoot it, if he gets set and the seams spin up right. And that Blob -- it's alive! A shape-shifting, hideous thing, throttling naïve playoff youths, denying entry passes to the post. It's a fronting, shifting, switching, choking, zoning D.

"You can tell it works. They took Game 2 off the Nets with Paul Pierce shooting 3-for-20, and 'Twan 11-for-32."

Kenyon Martin
Like it or not, teams need thugs like Kenyon Martin to win.
Road Dog: "You a Celtics' fan or what? The last Celtics' fan who admitted it in Brooklyn -- he ain't doing so good. Sleeps with the Derek Fishers. I like Pierce, now. He can score. He's better than, say, Stack. But he's also got tunnel-itis when he goes one-on-one. Wanna see him pass out of that double, and off the trap. And they need a Blob D, with him out there. Who's he gonna check? Can't check Kobe. Feet ain't fast enough for that. Can't guard Spree ..."

R-Dub: "Dog ... Spree's at home. And nobody can check Kobe. Quiet as it's kept, Kobe demands the double-team even more than Shaq does. Plus, in Pierce's defense, Bernie Bickerstaff, who coaches the Globies and several NBA squads before that, opened my eyes to the realities of living with the defensive liabilities of some better offensive players. There's a reason Mark Jackson played so long so slowly. In the playoffs, it's who converts. You can get large guys who can D it up -- what you can't get are guys who put it in the hole over, around and through guys who D up."

Road Dog: "Whatever. Don't get me started on Showboat. How's Pierce outboarding Walker? What is all that arc-hanging? Hoping Battie, Pierce or Rogers swat a loose ball out to him, so he can stick out his can and tippy-toe-launch another trey? What is that, the Heiney of the Lambs?"

R-Dub: "He should be good for 12 boards a game, really. But he can hurt you from deep, too. They gotta live with it."

Road Dog: "Twelve? Against the Nets? Tod the Bad Bod? Showboat should he good for 16 boards a game, easy. Take K-Mart out of there, it's like Christmas for the other team's rebounders. 'Twan busy flouncing around the 3-arc. He can go out there, just as a change, do his damage, but he act like he live out there. It ain't right, in a ball sense ... Walker must'a gone to C-Webb's School of Be What You Ain't."

R-Dub: "Would you take him on the Knicks?"

  At least Sac-town can give the Lakers a game. Against the East -- it's a train wreck. It's "Unbreakable." 

Road Dog: "Tomorrow. But he'd have to rebound. I'd take K-Mart before him. Younger. More vertical. Less selfish. Vicious. A thug, true that, but face it, you gotta have a thug to win. That, or Shaq. K-Mart called his mates out after they lost Game 2 to that Celtics' D. Said they had options, but Kittles, Van Horn, they acted scared or something ..."

R-Dub: "K-Mart didn't say they were scared, Dog. He said they 'seemed like they were nervous.' "

Road Dog: "Same thing."

R-Dub: "The Nets were warned about and prepared for the Celtics' Blob by counselors Eddie Jordan, Byron (Do I Need To Shave Off This Wispy Mustache -- Yes!) Scott & Crew; Kittles & Bits can't invent real playoff experience or team familiarity, what some people call "chemistry." It can be familiarity with your teammates, or familiarity with the true angles and givens of the game; an experienced playoff team will swing the ball past the help D -- like reading a blitz in football. If you can't make the hot reads, you can't play. You might be able to play, but you can't win at this level.

"In the NBA, reads are really hot, almost instantaneous.

"Teams with good ball movement eat up an overplaying, shifting D. The Nets are often not such a team. Kittles & Bits (Kittles, Van Horn, Jefferson, Harris), the Nets wing-corner players, are indecisive. More bluntly ..."

Road Dog: "What da %!#& are they doin' out there?"

R-Dub: "If there's hesitation in the ball swing, or a tell, the Celtics' and Harter's Blob is effective; it's out of position for fractions of seconds only. The Blob moves like a school of fish, movement intended to disguise, confuse predators. Harris, Kittles, Jefferson,Van Horn don't play as predators, unless they have an immediate, obvious angle to the hoop. Then it becomes clear to them. Hell, by then it's clear to Britney Spears, and she doesn't even follow the NBA."

Lucious Harris
Is that Jason Voorhees or Lucious Harris?
Road Dog: "Yeah! They play just like ... in them slasher movies, when they see Jason, or the Blob, they lock up, stand there froze in a spot, saying, "No ... NOOOO!" or trip, or blubber, or whatever, before they get smothered, bones crunched, throats cut, pinkish guts ripped out ..."

R-Sub: "Sooo ... you feeling me over there, Sam Raimi? Defenders taste this virgin blood, and become even more maniacal. A good D feeds itself, on demand; becomes like "Little Shop of Horrors." When it feeds on turnovers, it's rewarded for its hustle, grit and brio -- it plays even harder.

"But if you beat the D, and beat it late, make it work hard in doubling down, recovering, busting its tail for 22 seconds, then beat it with a deep shot, or a dive to the hole, it will wilt, sag, doubt. The Lakers would breeze by this Blob D. That doesn't mean it isn't any good. That just means they are the Lakers. You saw what the Celts' D did to Detroit."

Road Dog: "Dee-troit, my &%$@! The Celtics D is real available -- straight up. Vertical. Lob on 'em all day, shoot over the top of 'em in four of five positions on the floor."

R-Dub: "Yeah, the Celtics are awful short."

Road Dog: "Shawt!"

R-Dub: "Am I nuts, or does the Celtics-Nets series hinge on a match-up between Tony Battie and Todd MacCulloch?"

Road Dog: "Shaq can't even look at the screen. Has to watch from between his fingers ... to keep from laughing." R-Dub: "Not to disparage them. They made it this far. Collectively, they are in the 50 best in the world ..."

Road Dog: "But uncollectively, they ain't."

R-Dub: "Hold up, Dog. Hold on. It's just that sooner or later it gets down to the 20 best in the world, then the 10 best. And sooner or later, you reach your ceiling ..."

Road Dog: "The Nets will need oxygen soon."

Todd MacCulloch, Tony Battie
Shaquille O'Neal's licking his chops watching the whopper matchup between Todd MacCulloch and Tony Battie.
R-Dub: "Did you see Bill Russell being interviewed on TNT before Game 1 at the Meadowlands? Russell said it, between the lines -- he said the Celtics played well all year, said he went in there before the game and encouraged them to play like a team (because often they don't, offensively -- hello, 'Twan ... hello, Kenny Anderson) said they'd be better next year. If you paid close attention, Russell was saying they were a year away. They may be a Bill Russell away, too. Say, why you think Celtics' fans blow off what Russ did for the history of their squad anyway? They act like they're mad he won ... what was it, 11 NBA titles?"

Road Dog: (making deaf hand signals) "Guess ... what? I ... don't ... care. I ... don't ... give ... a ..."

R-Dub: (ignoring Road Dog) "All he did was give them a handful of rings. Celtic pride. Pride cuts both ways. He was proud. Maybe too proud. Maybe they didn't like his pride unless it was exerted against the broad backside of, say, Wilt Chamberlain. Typical. Russell could get into your head ... guess he was too complex for his own good. Made people think. Nobody likes having to think. Keep it simple. Bill Russell or Tony Battie, Bill Russell or Tony Battie ... Shaq won't lose sleep either way. See Shaq shear sheep in shallow Staples. Say it three times fast, near Bill Russell; you'll find yourself spitting on him, rather blamelessly."

Road Dog: "Spit on Russ? Why would I do that? If he was still playing for the Celtics, I might think about it. J-Kidd and K-Mart play more north-south than Walker & Pierce."

R-Dub: "But then there's Kenny Anderson ..."

Road Dog: "Don't be knocking Kenny, now."

R-Dub: "Knocking him right out of the park. He's kind of oblivious, and plays kind of a creepy game, a 'From Hell' type game, although I understand he's the best they've got. Kenny was anointed. 'Best point guard out of New York City.' That and a buck-fifty will get your shot rejected by J-Kidd. Rep won't stop the ball when Jason's got it. Kenny has to pick his vics carefully these days. Kenny Anderson, or Mike Bibby, or Bobby Jackson? You tell me. Kenny would be like the fourth best guard in Sac-town ..."

Road Dog: "Yeah, but he'd start for the Lakers."

R-Dub: "Don't screw up a good roll when I'm feeling for one. Kenny forgot the why, the how. Trying to protect his rep. Actually thought it, watching him play. 'His ego will get in the way right here.' During the lockout awhile back, as the league was in danger of losing touch with even the hard-core fans, Kenny was quoted by the New York Times talking about how he wouldn't be able to make payments on his fleet of cars. Which? Plus, he's no kind of matchup for Kidd. Although, if the Celtics were to make the Finals, he'd get his confidence back against Derek Fisher."

Road Dog: "Man, I could take Fish's spot."

Kenny Anderson
If the Nets don't do it first, Kenny Anderson's ego will eventually stop him.
R-Dub: "No, but I know what you mean. He can't handle Mike Bibby or Bobby Jackson either. The Lakers can hide Fish on Christie; Sac-town doesn't run stuff for Christie."

Road Dog: "Whoever Fisher guards, that's whose number gets called. If it happens to be Christie, it happens to be Christie. Against the Lakes, you got no place else to go ..."

R-Dub: "At least Sac-town can give the Lakers a game. Against the East -- it's a train wreck. It's 'Unbreakable.' "

Road Dog: "I'm calling for Lakers over Nets."

R-Dub: "You're thinking the Nets' Godzilla Meets Jason outheavies the Celtics' Blob. Makes sense. But I'll call it Lakers and Celtics, just to work your Doggie nerves. Figure maybe some of the Celtics might surround Jason Kidd and try to ugly him to death. Maybe they'll keep on doing what they did in Game 2, and pack it in, make Kittles & Bits try and beat them from the wings. Remember your 'Friday the 13th' sequels. Jason can hurt you bad, when he's alone. What matters is, when you face him, you're not alone."

Road Dog: "Right the first time. So what are we gonna call this horror show, Lakers vs. Nets?"

R-Dub: "Or Lakers vs. Celtics."

Road Dog: "Whatever. Anyway, what do we call it?"

R-Dub: " 'The Sum of All Fears'?"

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."



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