Originally created 05/16/03

Mutombo could get more time in conference finals



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Seconds after the New Jersey Nets finished off the Boston Celtics in four games, Dikembe Mutombo grabbed a broom and swept the floor of the Fleet Center.

Photographers couldn't resist snapping shots of the easygoing 7-footer in a scene that told the story of the second-round series.

The pictures also showed how far Mutombo has slipped since arriving in New Jersey less than a year ago in a trade that sent Keith Van Horn to Philadelphia.

Against the Celtics, Mutombo - an eight-time All-Star - left his seat just once, to play three minutes in Game 3.

"I just want to play basketball right now," Mutombo said Thursday, when the Nets got back to work after taking two days off. "It's been a while since I see myself going up and down the court. So I am looking forward."

This year has been a major disappointment for Mutombo. He was acquired to give the defending Eastern Conference champions someone to play Shaquille O'Neal in case the Nets made it back to the NBA Finals. Little went according to plan.

Mutombo missed 56 regular-season games after tearing ligaments in his right wrist in November. Since returning, he was relegated to third-string center, behind Jason Collins and Aaron Williams.

Then he saw action in just four of the Nets' 10 postseason games, with grand totals of four points, 10 rebounds and 33 minutes.

"His whole career he has started and he never has been hurt, so it's probably driving him a little crazy," Nets point guard Jason Kidd said. "But he is handling it well."

Coach Byron Scott insisted that Mutombo's lack of playing time was the result of bad matchups. Boston and Milwaukee are perimeter teams and don't have a dominant big man.

Things might change in the Eastern Conference finals against either Detroit or Philadelphia.

"Both these teams are big. They're strong," Scott said. "I was thinking about that the other day - Deke is probably definitely going to be needed."

The Pistons, who lead the other conference semifinal 3-2 after winning Game 5 Wednesday, have Ben Wallace, who plays more in the lane than anyone on Boston or Milwaukee.

Derrick Coleman is the 76ers' center, but he can play both inside and outside.

Mutombo chose his words carefully when asked whether he might play in the next series. He was outspoken after limited playing time early in the series with the Bucks and ended up sitting even more.

"I think I was frustrated at the beginning - the first two games of the Milwaukee series," Mutombo said. "After that I realized I just have to take it easy on myself instead of putting more pressure on myself.

"I understand my duty is to play the game of basketball, so all I have to do is be receptive to what the coaches are saying so when my name is called I'll be ready to go on the court."