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New Jersey heading East with confidence

By Compiled from Times wires
Published June 8, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The league's great East-West divide doesn't seem quite so gaping anymore - not while Jason Kidd is leaping confidently across it, and not while Tim Duncan is missing nearly enough free throws to fill it.

The Nets headed home Saturday riding a wave of confidence in the NBA Finals. Twenty-seven years after joining the league and 26 years after moving to a swamp, they finally won a title series game, holding off the Spurs 89-87 in Game 2 on Friday night.

And in wresting the homecourt advantage from San Antonio, the Nets also believe they have proved the East's best teams can contend with the West.

"The West has won the last four Finals, so until we prove them wrong in the East, I guess they can say that," New Jersey's Richard Jefferson said. "We don't think it's true, but you've got to walk the walk."

Game 3 - the first of three straight at Continental Airlines Arena - is tonight.

Kidd, who spent his first seven seasons in the West, has heard all about this superiority complex in his two seasons in New Jersey, and he is a bit tired of it. He had 30 points and seven rebounds in the breakthrough win, making five free throws in the final 20 seconds to keep the Nets ahead.

"We've got to keep making our foul shots if we're going to have a chance to compete against the mighty West," Kidd said with a lilt of sarcasm.

But ever since Chicago finished its run of six championships in 1998, the East has been belittled and bullied by the West.

The Spurs won the first post-Michael Jordan title, and the Lakers lost just three games during the last three NBA Finals.

The Nets aren't expecting to become the first to win the middle three home games since the title series went to a 2-3-2 format, but they have reason to expect improvement. After maintaining a lead in the second half of Game 2, New Jersey feels confident.

And New Jersey is 6-1 at home in the playoffs, winning every game since the opening round.

"We haven't accomplished anything, but now we have the homecourt advantage," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "The object is to win a championship. All we did was tie it up."

After New Jersey made big adjustments in Game 2, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich must change his strategy on the fly. San Antonio must stop turning the ball over and find ways to score in the paint against Dikembe Mutombo, who helped harass Duncan into a middling performance.

Duncan had 19 points and 12 rebounds but was 3-for-10 on free throws, emphasizing the Spurs' struggles at the line. San Antonio is last among the 16 playoff teams in free-throw percentage.

The Spurs have 34 turnovers in the series to New Jersey's 20.

"You lose leads when you turn it over and you don't make free throws," Popovich said. "We are prone to missing free throws and making turnovers. We'll probably do it again. Hopefully, we'll do it less."

CONNECTICUT 65, HOUSTON 58: Shannon Johnson scored 21 and had eight assists for the host team. The Comets were without two-time league MVP Sheryl Swoopes after she sprained her right ankle late in the first half.

DETROIT 74, SAN ANTONIO 55: Kendra Holland Corn scored 13 and league scoring leader Swin Cash added 12 as the visiting Shock (2-1) moved above .500 for the first time since June 2000. Marie Ferdinand led the Silver Stars with 16 points.

INDIANA 86, NEW YORK 66: Tamika Catchings scored 24 and Stephanie White added 15 as the host Fever fell one point shy of the team record.

CLEVELAND 67, CHARLOTTE 57: Chasity Melvin scored 12 and Lucienne Berthieu had a career-high 11 for the host Rockers. Dawn Staley and Kelly Miller each scored 11 for the Sting.

SEATTLE 66, PHOENIX 57: Lauren Jackson matched a career high with 27 points as the host Storm held off the Mercury.

[Last modified June 8, 2003, 01:33:29]

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