Liberty coach Richie Adubato praised his two leading defenders on Sunday for containing Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings—the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year—after New York forced a third game in the first-round playoffs with a high-octane 84-65 victory. “I’m very pleased with the job that Vickie [Johnson] and Crystal [Robinson] and everybody did on Catchings,” he said. “That’s hard to say when you look and see that she had 20 points and 14 rebounds. But I can’t overemphasize how strong and physical she is.”

For the veterans of New York, battling Catchings wasn’t just a matter of trying to keep themselves in the playoffs. (The decisive third game was scheduled for Tuesday, after the Voice went to press.) The Liberty-Fever match-up is also a contest between two styles of basketball—and has implications for the future direction of the league.

While Catchings had the ball more than 70 percent of the time during Fever possessions on Sunday and posted nearly a third of her team’s points and more than half of its rebounds, four Liberty players scored in double digits. The Liberty banked 24 assists, the Fever only 14. At its best, the Liberty plays a team game as tight, intricate, and dependent on trust and cohesion as Elizabeth Streb choreography, while the Fever follows the path of its brethren in the NBA, featuring the pyrotechnics of an unstoppable star. Catchings is certainly fun to watch. But when they’re on fire, the Liberty blaze with the abiding power of sisterhood.

Meanwhile, two weeks after an apoplectic column in which he raged against a Lesbians for Liberty action at the Garden on August 2, Times columnist Ira Berkow can’t get over his panic. Writing about Sunday’s playoff game on Monday, he took the opportunity to rail again against the fans who simply want a little acknowledgment of their existence with the sort of community events that other teams in the league provide. What’s the prob, Ira? Sure, all that unexamined straight-white-guy privilege clouds his ability to see the power of the heterosexual presumption (i.e., that lesbians remain invisible if they don’t declare themselves.) But something more: He so takes compulsory heterosexuality for granted that he doesn’t notice how adamantly the league pushes the wife-and-mom or flirty-girl image of the players’ off-the-court lives. True, what matters most is that players be regarded as athletes. Funny how that becomes such an adamant principle for guys like Ira only when the femmy promo is challenged. —Alisa Solomon


As the NBA’s Cool AC League draws to a close, the Nets seem like big winners.

Proving that his drafting Michael Jordan for the Bulls was no fluke, Rod Thorn has done like Ricki Lake and given his team a low-cost makeover. Jettisoning Keith Van Horn, he of the soft game and the hard contract, was addition by subtraction. New sixth man Rodney Rogers scored more per 48 minutes than Van Horn did (23.4 v. 23.3) and shot better from the field (.471 v. .433) and behind the stripe (.374 v. .345). And plays a little defense, too. And while I have doubts about Richard Jefferson‘s long-term prospects vis-à-vis Eddie Griffin, the guy Thorn traded to get him, with his combination of court smarts, defense, and hops, the Nets were a better team when R-Jeff was on the floor even last year. Which renders the deal, essentially, Mutombo, a 36-year-old All-Star center, for Todd McCulloch, a journeyman center with 36-year-old feet. In addition to grabbing the boards that will start the break for Jason Kidd (and perhaps keeping Kidd from breaking to Denver, Seattle, or San Antonio), Mr. M should help school young ‘uns like backup center Jason Collins and the back-at-the-four Kenyon Martin in the fine art of swatting shots and swapping elbows. And with Chris Childs complementing Collins, Rogers, and the underrated Aaron Williams and Lucious Harris on the second unit, the Nets are now legitly 10 men deep. And while these mods don’t get the Netsies more than a game closer to beating the Lakers, they may not have to. Gambling on Shaq‘s aching toe, Thorn built this team to match up with the on-the-doorstep Kings (who added Keon Clark) and the maturing Mavericks (who continue to court Rashard Lewis). It makes you think that Thorn could have actually done something with the mess that is the Knicks. The Darius Miles-for-Andre Miller trade illustrates just how willing the tabloids are to tap into Scott Layden‘s delusions (Spree for Miller? Why not Spree for Kobe?), while the Glenn Robinson-for-Toni Kukoc deal shows that you couldn’t trade Latrell for 100 shares of WorldCom. But what’s astonishing is that Layden—or whoever is calling the shots—could have turned down a chance to trade Kurt Thomas, Charlie Ward, and Travis Knight‘s salary for Mutombo. —Allen St. John


The prospect of a baseball strike is causing no small amount of apprehension among bookmakers around the globe. Sportingbet PLC in London, an online sports bookmaker that targets U.S. bettors, takes in close to 300,000 bets on baseball per week, generating a volume of $15 million, says its operator, Mark Blandford. He estimates that the entire offshore bookmaking industry is handling around $10 billion per year. That dwarfs the estimated $600 million wagered annually on baseball with Nevada’s legal sports books. But illegal wagers in the U.S. on baseball put both figures to shame. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates that figure at almost $100 billion annually. —Sinclair Rankin