MONROE notes: Zen Master ups mind games

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Mike Monroe

There is no doubt Phil Jackson is the NBA's reigning master of mind games, both with his own players and opponents. In my opinion, the don't win the first of their three titles under Jackson if he doesn't get in 's head before the start of the 1999 Western Conference finals against the . That said, I'm not buying Jackson's contention, after his lost at Sacramento on Thursday night, that his team isn't any more concerned about the this season than in seasons past. Asked if there were reason now to fear the , Jackson glowered at his inquisitor Thursday night and snapped, "Absolutely none. I have absolutely no fear of this team at all. Did you look at their bench and their demeanor? They whined the whole game long. I mean, if they're unhappy with the refereeing every time we play them, they obviously are carrying something inside that says they have to have the referees to win the game or something. "Maybe it's just their behavior on their home court, but that's not good behavior for a team that wants to win a championship, or thinks it can win a championship." I know it's Jackson's intent to keep the focused on anything besides just playing the game when they meet the . I think that's because he knows in his heart how much better equipped this season's are to contest his three-time champs. While I may agree with Jackson that the need to stop their whining if they ever are going to be a championship club — a point their own coach hammered home at halftime Thursday — I think the likely read his comments and had a good laugh. I don't think the master of the mind game is messing very successfully with their heads this time around. In fact, the minds Jackson may be trying to reach this time around likely belong to his own players. He may even be trying to "psyche" himself into believing the should not be feared. If Jackson has even a scintilla of objectivity, he understands last year's outplayed the in the Western Conference finals. The fact they did so with their best shooter, , at far less than full strength should have frightened him then and ought to frighten him now. Sometimes, though, you have to whistle past the graveyard to arrive safely at home.

Starving Artest

At the rate he is missing games, forward will sit out more games than he plays the rest of the season and pay more money than he receives. When his most recent suspension — two games for getting yet another flagrant foul — has been served, Artest will have been suspended for 12 games this season, 15 percent of the ' games. And who knows how long it will be before he gets another flagrant foul? To reiterate, he's Artest's bill of particulars this season:
  • Three games for breaking the video equipment at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3.
  • Four games for flipping birds and arguing with the Miami bench Jan. 27.
  • One game, imposed by Isiah Thomas, for breaking the photo of himself in the hallway leading to the locker room after loss to Washington on Feb. 25.
  • One game for a flagrant in Portland on March 8.
  • One game for a flagrant in Philly on March 12.
Artest also missed a game in Chicago on Dec. 21 with a stomach virus. The are 4-7 without him. Artest claimed innocence on the latest flagrant, pointing out he had no intention or chance of injuring on the play for which he was given the flagrant foul. But he also acknowledged the need to find an approach that won't have him missing so many games. "Maybe I should just try to block shots," Artest said. "Maybe that will work. I'm going to try some different things. "I'm still going to play with a lot of intensity. I have to find a way not to get flagrant, though. These flagrants got to stop." There is evidence that opponents are goading Artest, or at least trying to sell his fouls to officials. The say they heard reports out of Philadelphia that , who drew a flagrant from Artest last week, admitted to rolling on the floor after Artest grabbed him by the hip and swung him to the court. My response: Artest has nobody to blame but himself.

Big Ben strikes two

Now that Artest has pretty much eliminated himself from consideration for any postseason awards by his serial, on-court lunacy, I'd say is a lock to win his second consecutive defensive player of the year award. I think defensive player of the year is the most difficult to judge because there are so few statistical criteria to factor. Clearly, blocked shots and steals are the most noticeable, with defensive rebounds figuring pretty heavily, too. Frankly, I had been hoping to vote for Artest, a great man-to-man stopper. At this point, I can't see my way clear to reward him for anything positive he did this season because the negatives have been too gross. Wallace has pulled down 20-plus boards in five straight games going into weekend play. That was last done by Dennis Rodman in 1997-98 with the . But he's got a ways to go if he wants the record. Wilt Chamberlain did it in 21 straight games back in 1961-62 when he averaged 25.7 boards. Wallace's offensive game is, ever so slowly, improving. He drained his second career 3-pointer last week made two clutch buckets in the fourth quarter in a narrow win over the at the MCI Center. "I worked on my game over the summer and I thought I might get my number called a little bit, but that didn't happen," Wallace said. "I wasn't about to pout or bicker about it. I've got other talents. I used my rebounding to get me shots. I run the floor and get out on the break. I don't have to wait for somebody to call my number. I will call my own number." Wallace has been getting a lot of his points by making teams pay when they leave him to double-team somebody else. "I can't be passive and allow my man to sag off and double-team another guy," he said. "I think that's what really hurt us in the playoffs last year. I allowed my man to double-team and roam around the court and disrupt our offense. Even if I don't make shots, I have to take shots to make my man guard me and keep him honest."

Stoudamire's strong return

It's nice to see getting a chance to contribute for the while rehabs his left knee after having it cleaned out arthroscopically. Stoudamire started the five games that preceded weekend play and averaged 14.8 points and 5.2 assists while hitting 30 of 61 shots in the five games. This is a guy who was DNP-CD 22 times in Portland's first 57 games. But he worked hard to keep himself in tip-top shape and retained as positive an attitude as could have been expected. "I'm glad I stayed focused," Stoudamire said. "If I wouldn't have done the work I needed to do, this could have been a really bad situation for me. As it is, I can get better, and I think I will, but I'm getting there. I am almost to where I would like to be."

Chicago shuffle?

There's been talk around the camp that could become a big guard next season so he and fellow lottery-pick point guard can co-exist on the Chicago roster. "It's what I played in college," said Williams. "There's nothing I like more than pressuring the ball, coming off screens, the ability to find people, come off down-screens, create off the ball. We have to see. I'll keep working hard and see what happens. I haven't faced adversity like I have this year. I've messed up along the way, but one thing that stays consistent for me is the work ethic. I have to keep working hard and fighting through it. "There are a lot of things you have to learn. Being a good college player coming into the league sometimes you can overlook that. The thing I had to realize is guys are faster, guys are quicker, guys are more athletic. I can't get to the basket as easy as I could in college. I can't always finish. So I have to develop different parts of my game after being so used to dominating at one part of the game." Williams may like the idea, but Bill Cartwright doesn't, and last I checked he was still Chicago's coach. "Everybody wants to see these two guys together," Cartwright said. "What do you want to see? Do you want to see us stop somebody or score? We want to play our best defensive team out there. We're looking for somebody to guard out there. I don't think at this point in time it is those two guys. Maybe next year it could happen." , the ' best player, concurs. "I don't think you want to have a starting lineup with those two guys (Williams and Crawford) out there," Rose said. "It would put one in position to check a two guard and I don't think either one is ready to go out there and do that."

Multi-position player

point guard said he has not experienced much anti-French sentiment from France's decision not to support the United States' military efforts in Iraq. "The people in San Antonio have always supported me," said Parker, who has dual citizenship in France and the United States. Parker's father is from Chicago. His mother is from Amsterdam. "I'm 50-50," Parker said. "I can see both sides." I think Parker has a future in politics.

Executive decision

coach Doug Collins reiterated this week his view that president Joe Dumars deserves to win executive of the year honors. "He had a 50-win ballclub and he went out and changed the backcourt," Collins said. "He got through free agency and made a trade for Rip Hamilton. They've been able to develop and I know they love . Plus, they are in a position to get the third, fourth, or fifth pick in the draft from . "They are in position to be good for a long, long time and I think Joe deserves a lot of credit for that." Well, in fact, give Collins and then-general manager Rick Sund credit for that pick the own. They were the ones who brokered that deal with then-Vancouver general manager Stu Jackson back in 1997. Nevertheless, I have to agree with Collins that Dumars should get executive of the year.

forced to shake things up

The had used the same starting five in their first 66 games this season: , , , and . They were the only team in the league to use the same starting five every single game. But that streak came to an end Tuesday night in Sacramento. Murphy, who is suffering from a bruised right knee, didn't play. Rookie got the start at small forward and Jamison moved to power forward Dunleavy responded with 15 points and seven rebounds against Sacramento, which beat the 117-91. can be reached at his e-mail address,
Tagged: Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Warriors, Pacers, Lakers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Grizzlies, Paul Pierce, Metta World Peace, Ben Wallace, Mehmet Okur, Erick Dampier, Antawn Jamison, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Troy Murphy, Chauncey Billups, Damon Stoudamire, Peja Stojakovic, Tony Parker, Memphis, Washington, Portland, Mike Dunleavy, Jamal Crawford

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