Beauty and the East

Can the Nets Survive a Bashing by the Ugly Stick of Playoff Ball?

What about Keith Van Horn? The only thing that's worse than Van Horn's haircut is his game. Marbury was right about him—he wouldn't even make the NBA's All-White-Guy Team. Van Horn is a tweener in the worst possible way. He's the league's least muscular power forward, only playing there because small forwards exploit his Lurch-like foot speed (even the Meadowlands organist sees this, playing the Addams Family theme when Keef lumbers to the basket). He doesn't have the bulk to be an effective post presence. And while Kidd's passes have made him look like a decent spot-up shooter, Paul Pierce he ain't. The Nets should dump him while the dumping's good.

What about Kenyon Martin? Now that he's healthy—he was limping most of last year—My Favorite Martin has blossomed into one of the league's better power forwards. But think of him as Charles Oakley on steroids (figuratively, of course), picking up his points on putbacks and finishing on the break. To make it to the next level, he needs to (a) find a couple more post moves, and (b) chill out enough so that he doesn't become the Eastern Conference's version of Rasheed Wallace. Neither of these things will happen by May.

But won't the Nets be the top seed in the East? Yes, most years, the top seed in the East—think Sixers, Pacers, and all those Bulls teams—makes it to the finals. This is not most years. Look at the Nets' dance card. Their first-round opponent could very well be the defending conference champion Sixers. Or Vince Carter's Raptors. Or the vastly improved Pacers (message to Scott Layden: That's how to rebuild a team). Or the battle-tough Heat. Indeed, entering the season, any one of those teams would have been among the favorites to win the conference. Any of them can outmuscle New Jersey in an ugly playoff-style tussle. If by some miracle the Nets should survive three rounds of Eastern Conference WWF hoops, the Lakers, or whichever Western team knocks them off, will toss them around like a doggy toy, kind of like the way the Knicks got gnawed by the Spurs.

So what's going to happen? Let me peer into my crystal ball. The Nets are going to win the conference—the Bucks are too flaky, the Sixers too injured, and the Pacers too ungelled to make a run over the last 20 games. They'll play the Raptors in the first round. It'll go five games. Vince Carter will receive an honorary degree from DeVry on the morning of the deciding game. He'll miss the three-pointer that could have won it. The Nets win! The Nets win! There's a giant victory party. Jayson Williams shows. I hear a loud noise . . . things are suddenly getting hazy.

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