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Optimism not high for Magic

The Bucks appear to have every advantage in their first-round East playoff series.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001


Magic coach Doc Rivers will not be getting instructions hidden inside a phone booth, and there likely will be no warning about a tape destructing in five seconds.

But Orlando's task of upsetting the Milwaukee Bucks in their best-of-five opening-round NBA Eastern Conference playoff series may appear to be an impossible mission.

The Bucks have beaten the Magic nine straight times, including all four games this season.

Considered one of the NBA's most prolific scoring teams, the Bucks have three players who average more than 18 points. The Magic has one.

Against the top four teams in the West, the Bucks were 8-0. The Magic was 1-7.

And finally, starting with veteran coach George Karl, making his 103rd playoff-game appearance, the Bucks have ample post-season experience. For the Magic, only Bo Outlaw has played in more than three playoff games, and Rivers will coach his first.

Game 1 of the series is 8:30 tonight in Milwaukee. "They just don't have the firepower necessary to last 48 minutes with us," Milwaukee center Scott Williams said after Monday's 101-89 win at Orlando. "Right now, for some reason, we seem to have a physical or mental edge over them."

Even Rivers sees a daunting challenge.

"I am (concerned), but there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "I'm going to tell (his players) to plead ignorance and just go out and play. Play free. Attack. That's all you can do.

"You learn on the job. We have a lot of things against us going into the playoffs. We have a team that's very difficult for us to match up against, and we are playing with no experience. But that's okay. You've got to get (experience), and that's the only way you can get it."

Key to Orlando's problem is Milwaukee's strength -- four players (Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, Ray Allen and sixth man Tim Thomas) who can create their own shots.

In the slow-down, half-court tradition of the East playoffs, talented one-on-one players mean nightmares for the Magic.

"The matchups are what they are," Rivers said. "When you look at most of the teams, they have one, two tops. Three? Maybe. When you're at four -- and lethal guys, not including the Lindsey Hunters of the world -- you have an offensive juggernaut. (The Bucks) really do. They are a very difficult team to defend."

Robinson, Allen and Cassell have terrorized Orlando all season, averaging 20.2, 19.3 and 14.2 points, respectively, against Orlando. Even more worrisome for the Magic is that the trio's playground skills could become more hurtful in the playoffs, when teams traditionally do everything to make the game a half-court contest and test an opponent's third and fourth options.

"You will be able to take them out of their first set because of the style that you're playing, and then it comes down to moving the ball and playing basketball," Rivers said. "If you're the Bucks, they can swing it to Cassell, Thomas, Allen or Robinson, and they still can get offense."

Rivers said trying to outscore the Bucks is like sipping hemlock.

He said his team has little choice but to contain Robinson, Allen and Cassell, and put its eggs in the Tracy McGrady basket. Rivers said the plan is not to try to outscore the Bucks and convince his players to put the regular-season losses behind them.

McGrady, whose 26.8-point average will have to stick if the Magic is to survive, said he is convinced his team has put its woeful performances against the Bucks behind it.

"We have to be focused," he said. "This is a whole different season come playoff time. I truly feel we can beat them."

Point guard Darrell Armstrong, one of few Magic players with playoff experience, said he is confident his team will overcome the defeats and enter today's game by turning the microscope around.

"It's three new games you have to win, and when it comes down to it, that's all you have to win," Armstrong said. "The pressure's not on us; it's on them. They're the second seed. All we have to do is play basketball. Play hard."

Today's playoff matchups

Eastern conference

NO. 2 MILWAUKEE (52-30) VS. NO. 7 ORLANDO (43-39)

SERIES: Bucks lead 4-0.

KEY PLAYERS: Bucks -- Ray Allen, G (22 ppg); Glenn Robinson, F (22 ppg); Sam Cassell, PG (18.2 ppg, 7.6 apg). Magic -- Tracy McGrady, F (26.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg); Darrell Armstrong, PG (15.9 ppg, 7 apg); Mike Miller, F (11.9 ppg).

LAST TIME: Bucks won 101-89 at Orlando on Monday.

SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: The Bucks may have a mental edge. The Magic has lost nine straight against them.

BEST GUESS: Bucks in four.

NO. 4 NEW YORK (48-34) VS. NO. 5 TORONTO (47-35)

SERIES: Raptors lead 3-1.

KEY PLAYERS: Knicks -- Latrell Sprewell, G (17.7 ppg); Allan Houston, G (18.7 ppg), Glen Rice, F (12 ppg). Raptors -- Vince Carter, F (27.6 ppg), Antonio Davis, C (13.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Charles Oakley, F (9.6 ppg).

LAST TIME: Knicks won 88-72 at New York on March 15.

SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: The Knicks could get upset if they don't control the boards. That won't be easy to do with forwards Marcus Camby (left hip) and Larry Johnson (back) nursing injuries.

BEST GUESS: Knicks in five.

Western conference

NO. 2 L.A. LAKERS (56-26) VS. NO. 7 PORTLAND (50-32)

SERIES: Tied at 2.

KEY PLAYERS: Lakers -- Shaquille O'Neal, C (28.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg), Kobe Bryant, G (28.5 ppg, 5 apg), Derek Fisher, G (11.5 ppg). Blazers -- Rasheed Wallace, F (19.2 ppg), Steve Smith, G (13.6 ppg), Scottie Pippen, F (11.3 ppg).

LAST TIME: Lakers won 105-100 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: Los Angeles may have looked vulnerable this season with the rift between Shaq and Kobe, but not anymore. The Lakers are perhaps the hottest team entering the playoffs, having won eight straight, including five against playoff-bound teams.

BEST GUESS: Lakers in four.

NO. 3 SACRAMENTO (55-27) VS. NO. 6 PHOENIX (51-31)

SERIES: Kings lead 3-1.

KEY PLAYERS: Kings -- Chris Webber, F (27.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 4.2 apg), Predrag Stojakovic, F (20.4 ppg), Jason Williams, PG (9.4 ppg, 5.4 apg). Suns -- Shawn Marion, F (17.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Jason Kidd, PG (16.9 ppg, 9.8 apg), Cliff Robinson, F (16.4 ppg).

LAST TIME: Suns won 88-86 in Phoenix on Sunday.

SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: Stopping the Kings means stopping Webber. The Suns haven't had much luck in that department. Webber averaged 30 points in the three complete games he played against the Suns.

BEST GUESS: Kings in four.

-- Compiled by Darrell Fry.

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