Originally created 05/05/02

Hornets-Nets semifinal might be biggest surprise



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One has been a perennial doormat. The other probably will put out a welcome mat in another city next season.

There has been change in the NBA this season, and there is no surer sign than Eastern Conference semifinal between the New Jersey Nets and the Charlotte Hornets.

The best-of-seven series that few even would have considered before the season without chuckling will get underway Sunday at Continental Airlines Arena.

"It's the conference semifinals and that's big-time NBA basketball, but it's different to see that Nets logo up there on the screen," New Jersey center Todd MacCulloch said.

"No one was expecting that and I don't think many people expected the Hornets logo up there as well," the Nets newcomer added.

The Nets may have been the league's biggest surprise this season.

Everyone knew they would be better with the addition of four-time All NBA point guard Jason Kidd. But no one expected the team to go from 26 wins a season ago to 52, winning both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference regular-season titles in the process.

This is their first trip to the conference semifinal in 18 years.

Despite injuries, Charlotte had a good season on the court, posting a 44-38 record to finish six games behind Detroit in the Central Division.

However, the team struggled at the gate and lost millions of dollars. A request to move the franchise to New Orleans is just a step away from being approved.

Despite the upheaval, the Hornets had an outstanding opening round in the playoffs, knocking off Tracy McGrady and Orlando in four games.

What made the win even more impressive was that the Hornets played almost the entire series without Jamal Mashburn, who was sidelined with the lingering effects of a virus and a vitamin deficiency.

Mashburn is unlikely to play in Game 1.

"Not having him takes away their main go-to guy and it forces them to spread it out more," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "But as good as he is - and I love the way he plays - they'll still be very good and capable without him. They'll make up for it on the defensive end."

The top-seeded Nets struggled to eliminate Indiana in Game 5 of their first-round series, going to double overtime to win.

"Everyone has talked about the parity in the Eastern Conference," Scott said. "Here are two teams going in different paths. I think it makes for great TV and makes for a great series. It has a little bit of everything."

The series will showcase two of the league's top point guards in Kidd and Baron Davis of the Hornets.

The Nets have two of the finest young players in the league in forwards Kenyon Martin and Keith Van Horn, but both need to be more consistent.

The Hornets have a veteran presence with center Elden Campbell and former Nets P.J. Brown and David Wesley. Charlotte coach Paul Silas even has ties to New Jersey, serving as a Nets assistant.

"I think we have to attack their strengths and I think one of their strengths is the way they pass the ball and the way they run the floor," Wesley said. "One of their strengths is their transition and if we don't get back on defense, we're going to be in trouble."

Silas said that Davis has to be as aggressive as he was in the Orlando series. Davis had consecutive triple doubles in one stretch.

"Often times, when I've seen Baron and Kidd go at each other, they don't go at each other hard," Silas said. "They have a lot of respect for each other's games. I think here in the playoffs, you'll see both of them being very aggressive, going right at it, and that's the way it should be."

Besides Mashburn, the Hornets also will be without Jamaal Magloire. He was suspended for a game for a foul in the Orlando series.

The Nets posted a 33-8 record at home in the regular season they took two of three home games against Indiana in the first round.

"I guess it's a little different that when we play there, no one will be there," MacCulloch said. "But the place could be totally empty and we still have to play and it's still going to be a tough game."

New Jersey won three of four from Charlotte in the regular season.