Riley, Heat have no one to blame but themselves


There was a look of total disgust on Pat Riley's face Thursday after watching Alonzo Mourning lose his cool -- and perhaps his season -- by throwing a punch at New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson. Just who is to blame for the incident that Riley described as being "totally out of hand"?

Riley might start by blaming himself.

The ugly play that has been the trademark of the first-round series between New York and Miami that concludes today? The constant elbowing, cheap shots and overly aggressive style that looks nothing like basketball? It was Riley who taught that style to the Knicks shortly after his arrival as coach in 1991, and Riley who brought that same mentality when he arrived in Miami in 1995.

When asked if both teams had learned a lesson after Thursday's fight that led to two-game suspensions for Mourning and Johnson, and a one-game suspension for the Knicks' Chris Mills for leaving the bench, Riley replied: "Have you ever played the game?"

If Riley thinks what has taken place is basketball, he is greatly mistaken. Too much mauling, pushing and shoving has resulted in one of the most difficult-to-watch series since the Miami-New York Eastern Conference semifinal series last year. One would have to be a die-hard fan of either franchise to enjoy the brawling style that has taken place.

That losing his leading scorer could lead to elimination in the first round is unfortunate for Riley, who may have had one of his best seasons. Miami was decimated by injuries to key players all season (Mourning missed the first 22 games after undergoing knee surgery), yet Riley led the team to 55 wins and its second straight Atlantic Division title.

Maybe Riley has one more coaching gem up his sleeve, a game plan that would allow his Heat to beat the Knicks today.

But the odds are against Riley and the Heat today. And if Miami loses, it will be tough to feel sorry for a guy who created this "Jerry Springer" mentality.

Stinging criticism

You would think being in the postseason would warrant playing through an injury. But that's clearly not the case with Charlotte Hornets center Matt Geiger, who decided to rest his sore right hamstring in the opening-round series with Atlanta.

Charlotte coach Dave Cowens said that Geiger should be "half-dead" not to at least play in the playoffs.

Geiger's response: "I'm not going to be out there risking my career, and the chance of tearing my hamstring, for no Dave Cowens. He's not worth it to me."

Geiger becomes a free agent this summer. He said he intends to play today in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls.

Plugging along

The Houston Rockets were a .500 team this season. An old-looking .500 team. And yet they are in position to become just the second eighth seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Houston wasted a chance to eliminate the Utah Jazz on Friday night, but the teams will meet in the deciding Game 5 today.

"I kept saying that I couldn't wait for the regular season to be over," said Charles Barkley, who injured his triceps in the Game 4 loss. "I think what happens is that you have so many games [during the regular season] that you don't ever get a chance to regroup."

That timely regrouping has made Houston a dangerous postseason team. With injuries to Hakeem Olajuwon, Barkley and Clyde Drexler this season, the Rockets were never able to get untracked.

Maybe Utah bought into that talk of Houston being old, perhaps forgetting that the Rockets extended the Jazz to six games in last year's Western Conference finals.

Houston forward Eddie Johnson said that maybe Utah got a bit too comfortable with the home-court advantage.

"Not a slight against them, but they've been dominant for the last I don't know how many years at home," Johnson said. "They pretty much destroyed us the last six games there. I thought they were overconfident."

No sleight of hand

Of the teams with the top 10 NBA payrolls, only the Washington Wizards (fifth, $40.89 million) and Orlando Magic (third, $45.78 million) failed to make the playoffs.


"I see kids wearing Nets hats, Nets shirts. Two years ago, you wore a Nets jacket to school, you'd get beat up."

-- New Jersey forward Jayson Williams, on the growing popularity of the Nets.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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