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Analyst sees East going the distance

Steve Jones, NBC's NBA analyst, will be in Dallas tonight even though the Mavericks did not make the playoffs.

Jones, who resides in Portland, had to position himself to get to either Miami or Indianapolis by Saturday. With a Miami win over New York and a Pacers win over Philadelphia, he would be in Indianapolis for the beginning of the conference final. But if the Heat loses, Jones would head for Miami for Game 7 between the Knicks and Heat.

Jones is guessing he will be in Miami.

"I've said all along the New York-Miami series is a seven-game series because neither team can win two in a row," the affable Jones said. "The healthier team is the New York Knicks and they have the better, balanced offense. Miami makes up for everything with will and desire, but they have to make it difficult to score.

"If they don't do that, they're going to go home and go home broken-hearted."

Jones' prediction for the Western Conference final is even bolder. Although he will cover the Eastern final for NBC, Jones is familiar with the West as one of analysts for the Blazers. His forecast won't please his employees.

"Certainly, Portland's depth and talent and size should give the Lakers problems, but it may not give them as much problems as Sacramento and Phoenix's style of play. The Blazers are more of a controlled team, more predictable in what they do. They're not as quick shooting and they don't have as many people who play off the dribble.

"On paper, they have tougher talent, but they may be easier for the Lakers than the other two."

Jones says the Lakers have struggled most against teams that play an up-and-down style, such as Sacramento and Phoenix.

He says Portland's chances will lie with containing Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers instead of stopping Shaquille O'Neal.

"They have to accept the fact Shaq is playing at a level that just by his sheer volume of shots, he's going to score, say, 30," Jones said. "If you can live with that and then make sure you do a job on the Glen Rices, Robert Horrys, Rick Foxes, now you have the Lakers on their heels."

FINGER-POINTING: These days, the sports commitment of WTSP-Ch. 10 has come under scrutiny, and with good reason. The station recently took sports out of its 5:30 p.m. sportscast and failed to broadcast Tiger Woods' dramatic Monday victory at Pebble Beach earlier this year.

But in large part, the station was blameless for the latest blunder: failure to broadcast the Byron Nelson Classic in its entirety. It was CBS, not WTSP, that decided to withdraw before Jesper Parnevik and Davis Love III teed off on the third playoff hole.

As the tournament passed its expected 6 p.m. conclusion, CBS made a rough calculation that the third sudden-death playoff hole would not end until at least 7:02, with no guarantee that it would be the last. To keep its prime-time schedule on track during a sweeps month, CBS chose to bail out at 6:38, after the second hole, rather than show Parnevik and Love at the 18th.

Unfortunately, CBS's calculation was wrong: Parnevik won at the third playoff hole, at 6:58 p.m.

"Nobody feels good about this," CBS spokesman Leslie Anne Wade said. "These are split-second decisions done with inexact math."

THUMBS UP: Mutiny players Steve Ralston, Manny Lagos and Ritchie Kotschau will host the WTMV-Ch. 32 8 p.m. movie next week. The players will introduce and close the broadcast of each movie, starting Monday with European Vacation. Scrooged, Rocky V and The Greatest will follow.

FINE TUNING: Larry Hirsch and Jim Karvellas will interview legendary Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn on their show at 4:15 p.m. today. ESPN will share resources with CourtTV for coverage of the Ray Lewis trial, expected to begin next week. The cable networks will exchange video and analysts, with CourtTV experts lending legal analysis to ESPN and ESPN reporters offering a sports perspective to CourtTV viewers. Fox is bringing back This Week in Baseball beginning May 27. It'll be the first time the show is on network television. Putting its unique spin on the program, Fox will have a different major-leaguer host each week. Tonight's version of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 will originate at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Calif. It's an invitation-only crowd. Sunshine Network will broadcast a tape-delayed version of the Bucs on the Beach charity event on four occasions, beginning June 11 at 2 p.m. The event takes place Saturday on Clearwater Beach behind the Hilton. ESPN receives its first Peabody Award on Monday for its SportsCentury series. The nightly SportsCentury series debuts in July on ESPN Classic.