Don't feel sorry for New York or Miami, both of which go into today's pivotal Game 5 at Miami Arena with makeshift lineups. The Knicks and Heat say they got themselves into this mess, so they're going to have to deal with it.
Because of suspensions resulting from Thursday's Game 4 fight, the Knicks are without Larry Johnson and Chris Mills, and the Heat is without Alonzo Mourning.
"There are no excuses. We're expecting to win just like they are," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "It's just unfortunate that something like this mars what was a pretty even series, and the teams have no one to blame but themselves."
The suspensions will force both teams to significantly alter their game plans. Both will go with smaller lineups. The Knicks will utilize their guards (John Starks, Charlie Ward and Chris Childs) more and the Heat will have to rely on forwards P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn for low-post scoring.
How well each team adjusts likely will determine who advances and who doesn't in this best-of-five series. Last year, with both teams missing key players because of suspensions after a fight, the Heat beat the Knicks in the deciding seventh game at Miami.
"I think we're losing out in the situation," Van Gundy said of the suspensions. "I think what we have to do is get the ball in the paint through the drive. I think that's going to be critical for us."
FORGIVE AND FORGET: New York and Miami might brawl again, but don't look for Brown and Ward to tangle.
The players, who touched off a highly publicized brawl between the teams during Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series last year, made up before the playoffs started. Brown and Ward held a post-game prayer for players on the court after Game 1 in Miami.
WALKER ABOUT TO WALK?: Boston has said all season that it wants to re-sign All-Star forward Antoine Walker, but Walker isn't so sure it will happen.
"I don't know if I will be here next season. I have mixed feelings. You've got coach (Rick) Pitino _ he's making half the decision and the owner's making the other half," Walker said. "So right now it's up in the air. I don't know what's going on."
NO FUN WHILE IT LASTED: The Chicago Bulls left the New Jersey Nets thoroughly impressed after sweeping them from the first round.
Said Nets coach John Calipari: "They're killers. They don't pick you up and dust you off, believe me."
REPLACING THE ADMIRAL: Tim Duncan's instant impact in San Antonio has been a blessing to the Spurs _ and an adjustment for David Robinson, who has become the second option in crucial situations behind the rookie.
"You've got to put your ego aside," Robinson said. "I don't care. If we're better with him scoring down the stretch, I have no problem with that at all. If we get the win, I go home with a smile on my face."
CAST YOUR VOTE HERE: You've heard it and he's heard it. Karl Malone is a dirty player.
"I get tired of hearing it," Malone said. "But let me say this: I played with a lot of guys who didn't like Karl Malone because he played the way he played. And along the way, if you play that certain way, people are going to say you're borderline dirty or he has a history. That's people.
"And you're going to get coaches who say that. But if you're a coach, do you want me to play for you? I come to play for an organization every single night. I'm going to play through injuries and give you what I got to win. Now take a poll. And if you want to win, or have a shot at winning, let's take a poll if you want to play with me or not."
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.