Like a good intelligence officer, Avery Johnson says he knows nothing. "I am going to have no impact in this series," Johnson said with a straight face Monday morning.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knows better. A former military man with a master's degree in Soviet studies that he earned during the Cold War, Popovich also is Johnson's former coach. And Popovich's training in matters of reconnaissance and surveillance tells him that Johnson, the Dallas Mavericks' 13th man, will indeed have an impact on the Western Conference finals.
It's all about the game within the game, one team knowing or trying to take an educated guess at what the other team is thinking. The Spurs and Mavericks will be playing it against each other during the series until one of them advances and the other goes home.
Against the Lakers, Popovich brought point guard Steve Kerr into the coaches' meetings to solicit his input about Phil Jackson's triangle offense. Kerr played under Jackson on three Chicago Bulls teams that won NBA titles.
"He was very helpful in the LA series. He knows what gives that offense problems," Popovich said.