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In Sports from United Press International

  |   May 9, 2002 at 3:58 PM
, May 9 (UPI) -- Spurs to celebrate Duncan

SAN ANTONIO. May 9 (UPI) -- New Jersey Coach Byron Scott may think the choice is "ridiculous," but Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs is the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the 2001-02 season.

The Spurs will hold a news conference at 4:30 Eastern Time to celebrate the naming of Duncan as the franchise's first league MVP since center David Robinson won the award in 1994-95.

The voting, conducted among 126 media members from across the country, has not yet been made available by the league.

Word leaked out on Monday that the 7-foot Duncan had won the award with Nets point guard Jason Kidd finishing second.

Duncan, 26, ranked among the league leaders with 25.5 points (fifth-best), 12.7 rebounds (second) and 2.4 blocks (fourth) per game to help San Antonio win the Midwest Division title with a 58-24 record, the second-best mark in the Western Conference.

Kidd, 29, was acquired from the Phoenix Suns for guard Stephon Marbury last summer and helped the Nets improve from 26-52 to 52-26, the franchise's best regular season record, and capture their first Atlantic Division title.

Scott believes Kidd's impact on the Nets should have been enough to win the award, although Kidd averaged just 14.7 points and shot 39 percent from the field.

"It's ridiculous. I don't understand it," Scott said Tuesday before the Nets beat the Charlotte Hornets in Game Two of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. "It's making it a little hard for me to understand what's the criteria, what do you have to do? I'm not trying to say that Tim doesn't deserve it. He's a great player. But San Antonio wins 53, 54, 55 games every season. What Jason has done with our team, from where we've come from. I don't understand it."

Nets President Rod Thorn also expressed his disappointment with Kidd's runnerup status.

"If you told me Tim Duncan was voted as the most outstanding player in the NBA, I would have no problems," Thorn said. "But my definition of the Most Valuable Player is a guy who has done more for his team than in any given year. With that definition, I'm very disappointed that Jason didn't win it."

Duncan clearly emerged as the leader of the Spurs this season, enjoying his best season, while fellow 7-footer Robinson had the lowest output of his career in points, rebounds and blocked shots.

Duncan led the team in scoring in 72 of 82 games and in rebounding 69 times. He also took what was his one weakness, his 62 percent shooting from the free throw line last season, and turned it into a strength, making nearly 80 percent from the line.

With the departure of veteran point guard Avery Johnson, Duncan also became more of a vocal leader this season for the Spurs.

Tony Parker, the team's 19-year-old point guard, often credits Duncan for pushing him to be more aggressive.


NBA's top playoff seeds in action

DALLAS, May 9 (UPI) -- The Sacramento Kings, who managed only a split at home, are at Dallas Thursday night to play the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of their NBA Western Conference semifinal series.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Nets, who held their homecourt advantage, take a 2-0 lead into

Thursday night's Game Three in their Eastern Conference semifinal contest against the Hornets in Charlotte.

Kings fans have prided themselves on being the loudest in the league, but they irritated Mavericks' Coach Don Nelson with their clanging of cowbells in the first two games of the series at Arco Arena.

Now, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reportedly has purchased hundreds of cowbells for Thursday's game at American Airlines Center, but the Kings should be more worried about containing Dallas point guard Steve Nash. He scored a playoff career-high 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting and had eight assists in the Mavericks' 110-102 win in Game Two on Monday.

In order to contain Nash, the Kings may have to slow the tempo of the game, especially if they plan on again playing only seven guys as they did in Game Two.

Dirk Nowitzki posted his fifth double-double of the postseason with 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Nick Van Exel added 19 points off the bench.

Sacramento got a sub-par outing from normally sharpshooting Peja Stojakovic, who scored 30 points in Game One, but made just 5-of-19 shots for 14 on Monday.

Game Four will be Saturday, also in Dallas.

Charlotte will again be short-handed.

Jamal Mashburn, who has missed several playoff games because of a viral illness, will continue to be missing in action.

In Charlotte's two home playoff games against Orlando, the average home attendance dipped to 9,914, half of the Coliseum's capacity of 19,828.

In Game Two, the Nets played perhaps their best game of the postseason, pulling away for a 102-88 victory. Reserve guard Lucious Harris scored a playoff career-high 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting to lead a balanced attack.

Last year, the Hornets overcame a 2-0 deficit against Milwaukee in the conference semifinals by winning the next three games before losing the final two.

Game Four will be Sunday in Charlotte.


Blues, 'Canes to get even

ST. LOUIS, May 9 (UPI) -- The St. Louis Blues look to tie their series at two games apiece when they host the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night in Game Four of the NHL Western Conference semifinals.

Keith Tkachuk sparked the Blues offense with his first career playoff hat trick on Tuesday as St. Louis captured a 6-1 triumph, snapping a six-game postseason winning streak by Detroit.

Pavol Demitra, playing alongside Tkachuk, had a shorthanded goal and two assists while Scott Mellanby continued his playoff surge with a goal and an assist. Mellanby, who has tallied six goals and three assists this postseason, has points in six of his last seven games.

Held to just two goals over the first two contests with the Red Wings, the Blues registered more than four goals for the third time in six games. St. Louis also managed to shut down the NHL's second-best offense by holding the Red Wings to a goal or less for the first time since an April 4 regular-season loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Tuesday's offensive outburst was enough to chase Detroit goaltender Dominik Hasek from the nets for the first time this postseason. Until that point, Hasek had not surrendered more than four goals, but the six-time Vezina Trophy winner has proven to rebound quickly from his last two four-goal mishaps. He has held opponents to a combined one goal in the following contests.

St. Louis last managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the 1972 semifinals against the Minnesota North Stars, and is 1-11 all-time in series when losing the first two games.

Also, the Carolina Hurricanes hope they can finally solve goaltender Jose Theodore when they look to even their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Montreal Canadiens at two wins apiece.

After a dominant regular season, Theodore was merely average through the first four games of the Canadiens' first-round series with the Boston Bruins. In Montreal's last five playoff games, however, the finalist for the Hart and Vezina Trophies has been nothing short of spectacular.

He was denied his first shutout of the playoffs, giving up the tying goal to Bates Battaglia 3:24 into the third period, but he kept his team in the game as the Canadiens were outshot, 16-5, over the final 20 minutes of regulation.


Mets' Franco done for season

NEW YORK, May 9 (UPI) -- Long-time New York Mets reliever John Franco needs "Tommy John" surgery to repair an avulsion of the MCL and flexor tendon in his left elbow and will miss at least the rest of the season.

Franco, the National League's all-time leader with 422 saves over a remarkably durable 18-year career, has not pitched since undergoing surgery Dec. 3 to remove a calcium deposit in the elbow.

The 41-year-old southpaw was delivered the bad news before Wednesday night's game against San Francisco by Mets General Manager Steve Phillips, Manager Bobby Valentine and team physician Dr. Andrew Rokito, who administered the MRI that found the damage.

Franco was advised to wait before deciding whether to undergo the ligament replacement surgery, which would put him out of action for approximately one year, or end his career.

"Obviously, I'm very sad," said Mets ace Al Leiter. "He's my best friend on the team. But knowing John, I don't know what he plans to do. Today's not a day to make decisions. I just hugged him and let him know how much he means to me and the team. I can't say enough what he means to us."

Franco is expected to announce his decision at a news conference at 4:00 Eastern time.

The New York native who was named the Mets' captain last May, Franco was acquired from Cincinnati prior to the 1990 season.

The four-time All-Star trails only Lee Smith (478) on the all-time saves list.

"There's no better team guy, no better captain," Valentine said. "That's all I know. There's no better guy than him."

Franco has the most games pitched (605) and saves (274) in Mets history.

"We are all feeling for him," said Mets catcher Mike Piazza. "We are here for him and love him. If anyone is capable of returning, he's one of those guys."


Falcons oust GM

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., May 9 (UPI) -- The reshuffling of the Atlanta Falcons' front office has cost general manager Harold Richardson his job.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently completed the purchase of the team from the Smith family and promised a reorganization of the front office. One of those moves came Thursday when the team announced that Richardson, who has served as general manager since January 1998, will "pursue other opportunities" in the NFL.

"We appreciate Harold's dedication during his time with the Falcons, including his support during ownership transition," said Blank. "We wish him well in his new endeavors."

In his role, Richardson served as the team's salary cap administrator and was responsible for player contract negotiators. The major personnel decisions are made by Dan Reeves, the Coach and Executive Director of Football Operations.

Richardson joined the Falcons in February 1997 as assistant head coach-football operations, and helped build a team that went to the Super Bowl following the 1998 season.

"He was a key player in helping our team get to the Super Bowl in 1998," Reeves said. "I think we have a great nucleus of young players and Harold played a major role in helping our organization secure those players."

Prior to joining the Falcons, Richardson spent eight seasons with the Denver Broncos as a coach and administrator.


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