Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Pistons on the edge as Nets find tempo

NBA PLAYOFFS New Jersey moved to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, while the Cleveland Cavaliers bagged a valuable first pick in the NBA lottery

AFP AND AP , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY AND SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY

Jason Kidd scored a career playoff-high 34 points and Kenyon Martin had 19 as the New Jersey Nets finally hit their uptempo stride and moved within one victory of an Eastern Conference finals sweep by beating the Detroit Pistons 97-85 on Thursday.

"It felt good to get out and get some easy baskets," Kidd said. "We got our hands on a lot of balls, and we got a lot of rebounds that led to fast breaks. Anytime you can do that, the basket gets bigger."

The Nets sputtered before winning the first two games of the series by two points apiece with fourth-quarter rallies, with the scores in the 70s and 80s. The defending conference champions have won nine straight playoff games and can close out their second straight sweep tonight when they host Game 4.

"It's what we talked about all season long -- getting back to the finals, having a chance to win the championship," coach Byron Scott said. "We thought about this in October, when training camp started. We haven't got there yet, but we're one game away."

Richard Hamilton scored 21 points -- but only six in the second half -- to lead the Pistons, who now must attempt to become the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-0 down to win a series.

"We've got to play as a team," said center Ben Wallace, who had 15 rebounds. "We came into this series as a team. We went through struggles as a team. Right now we're not playing team basketball."

Martin scored 14 points in the first quarter, when New Jersey took the lead for good. Kidd scored 15 of New Jersey's 19 points and had two steals during a nine-and-a-half-minute stretch starting late in the second quarter, leading his team to a 32-4 advantage in fast-break points.

Kidd made 11 of 21 shots, 11 of 13 free throws and had 12 rebounds and six assists.Regardless of the method.

Desperate to find a winning formula, coach Rick Carlisle benched struggling starters Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince for much of the second half, but there was no solution for 18 turnovers, a 50-39 rebounding deficit and a Nets defense that seemed to have its hands everywhere.

"I'm not going to take anything from there," forward Clifford Robinson said. "But we haven't played well, and they have."

The Nets' nine-game playoff winning streak is the fourth-longest all-time, tying them with the 1996 Bulls and 1982 Lakers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA lottery on Thursday and will select Ohio high school sensation LeBron James with the top overall pick in next month's draft.

It marked the first time in 13 years that the team with the NBA's worst record won the lottery.

It could not have come at abetter time for the Cavaliers, a woebegone franchise whose massive rebuilding plan figures to be expedited by James.

"It's a big day in Cleveland sports," Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund said.

"I think it's gonna be great for me and also my family, who doesn't have to travel across the country to watch me play," James said in a televised interview on ABC.

The winning draw among 1,001 possible combinations was 6-2-3-12.

That adds up to 23, the number James wore as a three-time Ohio high school player of the year in Akron.

Upon receiving the top pick, Gund produced a Cavaliers jersey sporting the team's new colors and logo with James' name and No. 23 on the back.

"I think it will make a huge difference to the city and all of northeast Ohio," Gund said.

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