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Raptors give up on Wilkens, but he's not giving up game

©Associated Press
April 18, 2003

TORONTO -- Lenny Wilkens thinks he can build another winner, even after experiencing the worst season of his 30-year NBA career.

The Hall of Fame coach left the Raptors "by mutual agreement" Thursday following a 24-58 season in which he set the league record for career losses.

"I feel like I've got a lot of coaching left in me. I'm going to look at some options," the 65-year-old Wilkens said. "I still have a love of the game. I'll be involved one way or another."

Wilkens had one season left on his contract. The team said it will pay him what he's due.

The Raptors won a franchise-best 47 games in Wilkens' first season and 42 last season, making the playoffs both times. But this time the team was devastated by injuries -- it didn't suit up all 12 players in any game this season.

"If you can't practice because you've only got five or six that are healthy, you can't implement what you want to do," Wilkens said. "Injuries had a lot to do with it. I would have liked to have us healthy. That would have been great, but it wasn't to be."

All-Star Vince Carter missed nearly half the season with knee and ankle problems. He acknowledged Wilkens couldn't do much about the injuries but said the team didn't respond to his laid-back style.

"We didn't really know our roles and what we were supposed to do," Carter said. "We should look for a coach that understands the game today. To heck with the past."

Wilkens holds the record for coaching victories (1,292) and losses (1,114).

Four in row for Lakers starts on the road

In order for the Lakers to reach the NBA Finals and go for a fourth straight title, they might need to do something they didn't have to do in 2000, 2001 and 2002 -- begin each Western Conference series on the road.

The quest for championship No. 4 begins Sunday in Minneapolis, the city the Lakers called home until 1960.

Actually, it's a quest for title No. 10 for coach Phil Jackson, who is seeking to become the only coach besides Red Auerbach to lead his team to that many championships.

"Minnesota is our first test," Shaquille O'Neal said. "Mr. (Kevin) Garnett has something to prove, and we have something to prove. It should be a good series."

O'Neal makes two good points. Despite what they've shown over the past three seasons, the Lakers can prove themselves worthy of the dynasty title they so warmly self-embraced in June.

As for Garnett, he's still seeking to prove that a team with the league's most expensive young player can actually make it to the second round of the postseason. He is 0-6 for his career in the first round, 5-18 if it's broken down game by game.

"You've got to be able to put not only yourself but your team in position to shut your critics up," Garnett said.

Looking back before looking ahead, the eventual NBA champions were taken to overtime in Game 7 of the West final a year ago by the Kings, their biggest rivals. The Kings still believe they were cheated in Game 6, when the Lakers went to the free-throw line 27 times in the fourth quarter alone.

"We still feel it has an asterisk by it," Chris Webber said of that series.

If the Kings can get past the Jazz in the first round and the Mavericks or the Trail Blazers in the second round, it's entirely possible they'll earn their chance for redemption against the team that has eliminated them from the postseason three straight years.

The playoffs begin Saturday at 12:30 p.m. when Milwaukee plays at New Jersey, to be followed that day by four more Game 1s: Boston at Indiana, Phoenix at San Antonio, Portland at Dallas and Utah at Sacramento.

Sunday's games, aside from Los Angeles-Minnesota, are Orlando at Detroit and New Orleans at Philadelphia.

This is the first year the NBA will play a best-of-seven format in the first round, replacing the best-of-five used since 1984.

The Blazers will be playing in what figures to be one of the most wide-open first-round series, taking on the league's highest-scoring team: Dallas.

The Mavericks were fortunate to avoid a first-round matchup with the Lakers, a team that has defeated them in 44 of their last 49 meetings -- including 25 in a row in Los Angeles.

If Los Angeles gets past Minnesota and the other higher-seeded teams advance, the Lakers also will open the second round and possibly the third on the road.

KNICKS: Antonio McDyess is scheduled for have another operation on his fractured kneecap next week, putting his availability for the start of training camp next fall in doubt. McDyess, acquired from Denver on draft night in June, was hurt in New York's third preseason game and missed the entire season.

WNBA TALKS CONTINUE: The league and the union continued talks on a new labor contract. If the impasse isn't resolved by today, the season scheduled to begin next month will be canceled, the league has said. Union spokesman Dan Wasserman said talks probably will continue today.

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