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Sixth Sense
Phil Taylor
April 27, 1998
In the end, Michael Jordan should add to his five title rings, but for starters the NBA playoffs promise an entrancing mix of hot streaks mind games and other unpredictable forces
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April 27, 1998

Sixth Sense

In the end, Michael Jordan should add to his five title rings, but for starters the NBA playoffs promise an entrancing mix of hot streaks mind games and other unpredictable forces

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Jaren Jackson, Spurs. He's not a big name, but his two clutch three-pointers helped San Antonio beat Seattle 89-87 last Friday. When Jackson is hitting from the perimeter, he's a perfect complement to the inside game of Robinson and forward Tim Duncan.

•The Lakers. When Kobe Bryant, Nick Van Exel and Co. make smart shot selections, they're unbeatable. In the regular season they were 33-0 in games in which they shot 50% or better from the floor.

6. WHO SHOULD AVOID THE LINE?

The Lakers are the worst free throw shooting team in the playoffs (67.9%% in the regular season), but the Spurs aren't much better (68.8%). The Jazz (77.3%), the Knicks (77.2%) and the Rockets (77.1%) are the three teams least likely to hurt themselves at the foul line. Many terrible free throw shooters, such as Indiana forward-center Dale Davis (46.5%), aren't likely to have the ball near the end of a game. Here, however, are six players (and their regular-season foul-shooting percentages) who are the first or second offensive options for their teams and who could be shaky if they are asked to make crucial foul shots near a game's end:

Shaquille O'Neal, C, Lakers: 52.7%
Vin Baker, F, SuperSonics: 59.1%
Anthony Mason, F, Hornets: 64.9%
Tim Duncan, F, Spurs: 66.2%
Rasheed Wallace, F, Trail Blazers: 66.2%
Alonzo Mourning, C, Heat: 66.5%

7. WHO WILL GO OFF?

There are a few live hand grenades, players explosive enough to single-handedly change the course of a series. The Magic's Penny Hardaway proved to be one last season when he carried Orlando to a near upset of Miami in the first round by scoring 42, 41 and 33 points in the last three games. Jordan and Miller, of course, both have a history of playoff explosions. Other players who could detonate:

Tim Hardaway, Heat. Hardaway dominated Knicks point guards Chris Childs and Charlie Ward in last year's Eastern finals, especially in Game 7. New York's guards contained him better this season, but Hardaway can take over a game with his penetration.

Damon Stoudamire, Trail Blazers. He spent the first 2½ years of his career toting the Raptors on his back—"He carried everything but the luggage," says former teammate John Salley—but Stoudamire, a 5'10" point guard, has spread the ball around since being traded to Portland in February. In the playoffs he may not be as deferential, which could benefit the erratic Blazers in their first-round series against the Lakers.

Sam Cassell, Nets. Occasionally he tries to carry New Jersey when his club would be better off if he shared the load. But as he proved with the Rockets during their 1994 and '95 title runs, he lives for the big moment, and he was sensational during the Nets' playoff drive. New Jersey's best chance in its first-round series against Chicago is to turn Cassell loose and see if he can bedevil the Bulls.

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