Mutombo a spectator so far

Monday, June 2, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Watching the New Jersey Nets make a run at the NBA title hasn't been much fun for Dikembe Mutombo.

A proud man, Mutombo has played in four of the Nets' 14 playoff games, and it seems doubtful that the eight-time All Star and four-time defensive player of the year will have a big role in the finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 is Wednesday night in San Antonio.

Mutombo played only three of his 33 postseason minutes in the last two rounds.

Mutombo choses his words carefully when he talks now. After Mutombo complained about his playing time in the first round, coach Byron Scott sat him even more.

"I will not really keep going back and forth of what Byron says and what Mutombo says," the 7-foot-2 center said. "I'm going to stay focused. I'm going to be ready, prepare myself mentally and physically as well.

"If I get a chance to play, I would love to go there and do the things I love, to play defense, rebound and block shots, and help the team to win. If I don't get a chance to play, I will be with my teammates and cheer for them."

This isn't what either Mutombo or the Nets expected after New Jersey made a major offseason trade with Philadelphia, sending Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch to the 76ers.

However, things never seemed to go right with the Nets.

Mutombo never fit in New Jersey's motion offense, and his season took a disastrous turn around Thanksgiving when he tore ligaments in his right wrist in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

There was a four-month rehabilitation after surgery and Mutombo didn't get back in the lineup until late March. He played in eight games and then had to deal with a personal tragedy. His 40-year-old brother, Selu, died unexpectedly in the Congo.

Mutombo averaged 5.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24 regular-season games. Before this season, he had missed 28 games in 11 seasons.

The playoffs have been another disappointment in what has been a horrible year for the player the Nets call "Deke." He has been a 'did not play, coach's decision,' 10 times.

"My game plan is the same as it has been after we played Boston (and) Detroit," Scott said. "If I need him, I really hope and think that he'll be ready."

Mutombo said the last three days of practice have made him feel like a basketball player again. That might be important for the Nets. They acquired him because Shaquille O'Neal dominated the middle in the Lakers' sweep of the Nets in last year's finals.

With Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Kevin Willis and Malik Rose, the Spurs have more height and presence inside than any team the Nets have faced in the postseason.

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