Nets cruise past Pistons into championship series

Sunday, May 25, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One year older and immeasurably wiser, the New Jersey Nets are back in the NBA Finals.

The Nets won their 10th consecutive playoff game Saturday night, running full steam to a 102-82 victory to complete an Eastern Conference finals sweep of the Detroit Pistons.

Jason Kidd put the game away after shaking off a twisted ankle in the fourth quarter and finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Kenyon Martin added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

It was New Jersey's Kidd-led fastbreak that again put its stamp on the game, with the Nets outscoring the Pistons 19-0 in transition -- and 94-15 for the series.

The Nets, who had five days off between their sweep of Boston and the start of the Detroit series, will have 10 days to prepare for the start of the NBA Finals on June 4. They will play either San Antonio or Dallas, who resume their Western Conference final series today with the Spurs leading 2-1.

The Nets were a surprise finalist a year ago, but were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers. This year, they are determined to do better.

"Last year, we were just more than happy to be there," coach Byron Scott said before the game. "This year, we want to get back and prove it wasn't a fluke. And actually, we're a much better team than we were last year."

The victory came one day after the New Jersey Devils, the Nets' co-tenants in the Continental Airlines Arena, advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. It's the first time two teams who share the same building have advanced to the NBA and Stanley Cup finals in the same year since New York's Knicks and Rangers in 1994.

The Nets hold the fourth-longest single-season playoff winning streak in NBA history, behind the 1999 Spurs (12), the 2000 Lakers (11), and the 1989 Lakers (11). The all-time winning streak is 13 by the Lakers, spanning the 1988 and '89 seasons.

Clifford Robinson scored 21 points, and Richard Hamilton, Detroit's only reliable scoring threat in the series, had 20 for the Pistons.

As in Game 3, the Nets took the lead for good in the first quarter although this time things got uncomfortably close early in the fourth quarter -- especially when it appeared Kidd might have a serious injury.

The Pistons, showing the heart they lacked in the second half of Game 3, cut a 15-point third-quarter to six on Clifford Robinson's 3-pointer with 9:29 to play.

Then came the big scare: Kidd twisted his ankle grabbing the rebound off Hamilton's missed jumper with 6:59 to play. Kidd's right foot landed awkwardly on Ben Wallace's right foot, and the New Jersey point guard had a towel stuffed in his mouth to fight the pain as he lay on the court with the crowd chanting "M-V-P!."

"I stepped on somebody's foot, and I just twisted it," Kidd said. "It got my heart pumping faster. Once I knew I could stand up, I was all right."

Kidd limped off the court, but he didn't leave the game. The Nets called a timeout, and Kidd was back on the court when play resumed and started a 19-8 game-ending run. With 5:27 to go, Kidd started his own personal 8-1 run by getting free on a screen to hit a 17-foot jumper.

Kidd left to a standing ovation and a hug from Martin -- and more chants of "M-V-P!" -- with the score 96-75 with three minutes to play.

Mavericks' Nowitzki listed as doubtful for Game 4

Dirk Nowitzki's knee injury is not as bad as the Mavericks feared, although Dallas listed him as doubtful for today's Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs.

An MRI showed Nowitzki sprained the ligaments that hold his left kneecap in place, but there was no other structural damage.

"With an injury like this the typical recovery time is 10-14 days," Mavericks team physician Dr. T.O. Souryal said Saturday. "However, Dirk is an amazing athlete and with 24-hour treatment that we have already implemented, we hope he may be able to return to the court during this series."

Nowitzki's knee buckled inward late in Friday's game.

-- From wire reports

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