EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 12 (UPI) -- Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers can become the third Phil Jackson team to win three straight NBA titles if they beat the New Jersey Nets Wednesday night in Game Four of the NBA Finals.
The Lakers lead the series, three games to none.
"I just hope that we can put one more game together and win this series in short order," Jackson said.
Bryant and O'Neal combined for 71 points to lead the Lakers to a 106-103 victory Sunday and the commanding 3-0 lead.
Bryant had his best game of the series, playing more aggressively on offense. He scored 36 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter as the Nets tried in vain to double-team the unstoppable O'Neal.
History is not on New Jersey's side. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series and the Nets are not expected to become the first.
"No team is going to beat us four in a row," Bryant said. "That's the way we feel about it.
We're a confident bunch."
"We feel like we have all the answers for them," said Lakers forward Robert Horry.
At this point, the Nets would like to just avoid the sweep.
"It's hard to say you can come back from 3-0," said Nets star point guard Jason Kidd. "You can't really think about the 3-0 deficit. You can only think about Game Four. No matter what happens, we can' let this overshadow what we've accomplished."
New Jersey will try to avoid the first Finals sweep since 1995, when the Houston Rockets beat the Orlando Magic. If the Nets win Wednesday, Game Five will be in East Rutherford on Friday in the 2-3-2 format.
The Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers, 4-2, in the NBA Finals in 2000 and turned back the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1, last year.
O'Neal, who was born and raised in nearby Newark, N.J., proclaimed before the series that he wanted to win the title in the city he once called home.
Last season, Bryant celebrated in his hometown when the Lakers won in Philadelphia.
Sunday's victory was a historic one for Jackson, who notched his 155th playoff victory, tying Pat Riley for the most in history.
Steve Smith wins NBA Sportsmanship honor
NEW YORK, June 12 (UPI) -- Veteran San Antonio Spurs guard Steve Smith
Wednesday was named winner of the 2001-02 NBA Sportsmanship Award, honoring the player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.
It marks the third time in five years a member of the Spurs has earned the award, following center David Robinson last season and guard Avery Johnson in 1997-98.
"The award is truly an honor since there are so many great competitors in the NBA," Smith said. "I want to be part of a great team and this award is a wonderful example of our commitment to one another and dedication to teamwork on and off the court.
Smith was presented with the Joe Dumars Trophy by NBA Commissioner David Stern at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the NBA Store. He has asked that the $25,000 bonus money be donated to Reading is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), the nation's largest children's and family literacy organizations.
Smith received 65 of 126 votes from a panel consisting of 39 national media members and three media members who cover the NBA regularly from each of the league's 29 teams.
P.J. Brown of the Charlotte Hornets finished second with 28 votes. LaPhonso Ellis of the Miami Heat was third with 22 votes, and Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns was third with 11 votes.
The Sportsmanship Award is named after Dumars, the former Detroit Pistons guard who was the original recipient in 1995-96 and is now the Pistons' Vice President.
The annual award is part of a larger program, the NBA Sportsmanship Initiative, which also includes the WNBA and the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) and focuses on fostering the ideals of sportsmanship -- ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity -- in amateur and professional basketball players.
Woods favorite at U.S. Open
FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 12 (UPI) -- Tiger Woods looks to win his second consecutive major title this week at the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at the highly-publicized Black Course at Bethpage State Park in the shadows of New York City, 50 miles from Manhattan.
As usual, Woods is the favorite heading into a major tournament. He's won seven of them, and an eighth would put him halfway to the elusive Grand Slam, something that has never been accomplished.
While Woods already has earned the so-called "Tiger Slam" by claiming all four majors in succession over a two-year period, no one ever has won all four in one calendar year.
"Obviously, with Tiger holding them all at once, there's somebody out there now that people honestly believe can win it," said Davis Love III, whose only major title came at the 1997 PGA Championship.
The buildup began with Woods' third Masters title in April. Since then, the networks have promoted the U.S. Open as "Watch Tiger chase a Grand Slam."
"I guess they are trying to sell tickets," joked Woods, who is the world's biggest sports star at the age of 26. "I don't know. I have no idea."
Woods doesn't know or care if he'll win the next three majors. Right now, he's focused on the U.S. Open, not the expectations of a possible Grand Slam.
"I think for my own expectations level, I come to every tournament to try and win," he said. "And that's what I'm going to try to do this week again."
His peers expect him to be the player to beat. He's won five of the last eight major tournaments.
The only knock against Woods is that he never before has won on a par-70 course, going 0-for-8. The Black Course is a par-70, measuring an Open-record 7,214 yards.
Woods' dominance has been especially present at majors. Three of his triumphs have come by a combined 35 strokes as he often humbles courses that challenge other players to break par.
Dolphins ink DE Rob Burnett
DAVIE, Fla., June 12 (UPI) -- Veteran defensive end Rob Burnett became the latest member of the Baltimore Ravens to depart the team Wednesday, signing a two-year contract with the Miami Dolphins.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
New England, Miami's AFC East rival, also had expressed an interest Burnett's services.
He turns 35 in August, and is a veteran of 12 NFL seasons, the first six spent with the Cleveland Browns, and the last six with the
Ravens after the franchise relocated to Baltimore.
The 6-4, 270-pounder had the most productive season of his NFL career in 2000, when he amassed 97 tackles and 10 1/2 sacks in helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. That year, the Ravens' defense set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season.
However, after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoffs last season, the salary-cap strapped Ravens were forced to release numerous players responsible for their success.
Burnett, tight end Shannon Sharpe, wide receiver Qadry Ismail and safety Rod Woodson were among the players waived, linebacker Jamie Sharper and kick returner Jermaine Lewis were lost in the expansion draft, cornerback Duane Starks, safety Corey Harris and defensive tackle Lional Dalton defected as free agents, and Dalton's counterpart, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, retired.
Last season, Burnett started all 13 games in which he played and recorded 48 tackles, one fumble recovery and five passes defensed.
The addition of Burnett provides insurance for the Dolphins in case Daryl Gardener's twice-surgically repaired back becomes a problem. Burnett also can serve as a backup at defensive tackle.
Miami moved Gardener to end to start with Jason Taylor after losing Lorenzo Bromell and Kenny Mixon as free agents.
Burnett is familiar with two of Miami's defensive coaches. He played for defensive coordinator Jim Bates in Cleveland from 1992-93 and for defensive line coach Clarence Brooks at Syracuse from 1987-89.
Davenport withdraws from Wimbledon
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., June 12 (UPI) -- Former champion Lindsay Davenport has withdrawn from Wimbledon because of an injured right knee.
Davenport, the 1999 Wimbledon winner, is still rehabilitating from January surgery to repair the knee she injured in November at the Sanex Championships.
"I am extremely disappointed not to be able to play on the grass at Wimbledon this year," Davenport said. "I really hoped that I could make it back from my surgery earlier than expected and be able to play at Eastbourne and Wimbledon, but it is not possible yet."
Davenport had surgery on the knee in January and missed the Australian and French Opens. She has dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 in the WTA rankings.
Another former champion, Martina Hingis, and two-time finalist Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario also have pulled out of the tournament.
Stars re-sign Kirk Muller
DALLAS, June 12 (UPI) -- The Dallas Stars, who failed to make the playoffs this year after winning five straight division titles, Wednesday re-signed center Kirk Muller to a one-year contract.
Muller had 10 goals and 20 assists in 78 games with the Stars this season, and would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The 36-year-old Muller has 18 goals and 44 assists in 180 games with Dallas since signing as a free agent in December 1999.
Originally chosen by the New Jersey Devils with the second pick in the 1984 draft, Muller served as captain in four of seven seasons with them before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens prior to the 1990-91 season.
Muller has 356 goals, 597 assists and 1,205 penalty minutes in 1,294 career games. He has played in six All-Star Games and won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1993.
Dallas (36-28-13-5) finished 10th in the Western Conference, four points from the eighth and final playoff spot. The Stars named former Los Angeles Kings assistant Dave Tippett coach on May 16. Tippett replaced Rick Wilson, who was promoted when the team fired Ken Hitchcock on Jan. 25.
Surprisingly, Argentina ousted at World Cup
SEOUL, June 12 (UPI) -- The face of international soccer underwent another shocking change Wednesday, one that forced a World Cup powerhouse to the sidelines for the second straight afternoon.
Prior to the start of the sport's premier event, France and Argentina were the most popular picks to win it all. Now both are gone, Argentina seeing its World Cup trip come to an end Wednesday when it was held to a 1-1 tie by Sweden. France, the defending champion, was eliminated Tuesday without scoring a single goal.
"Sometimes the logic of football has no value at all," said Argentina striker Gabriel Batistuta. "The time is over and the pain is double. I had dreamed of a different end."
While the heavyweights were fading away, spots in the round of 16 were being battled for in dramatic fashion with Paraguay putting together an amazing comeback Wednesday to secure a berth that seemed destined to go to South Africa.
If South Africa had advanced to the second round, it would have marked the first time in World Cup history that two African nations had done so. Senegal moved into that stage of the tournament Tuesday.
Paraguay's advancement, coming thanks to a goal in the 84th minute by Nelson Cueves against Slovenia, allowed South America to avoid the embarrassment of seeing four of that continent's five teams eliminated prior to the second round.
Argentina joined Uruguay and Ecuador among those who had been eliminated while Paraguay joined Brazil for the knockout portion of the tournament.
Brazil, Germany, Spain and Italy are now the teams favored to battle for soccer's top prize, although Italy has yet to qualify for the second round.
To make the second round, Argentina had to have a victory Wednesday over Sweden. But the Swedes scored first on a free kick by Anders Svensson in the 59th minute. Argentina, needing two goals the rest of the way to advance, could manage only one. In the 88th minute substitute Hernan Crespo drove home the rebound off a penalty kick, which was saved by Magnus Hedman.
It marks the first time in 40 years Argentina has failed to advance to the second round.
"We feel for the people of Argentina," Batistuta said. "Being unable to pay the debt to them makes us feel bad. We did everything we possibly could. There was nothing left inside of us."
Wednesday's outcome left Sweden with five points in Group F and Argentina with four. And when England also played to a 0-0 tie with Nigeria in that group, the English earned their fifth point to ensure Argentina's elimination and their own advancement.
Things were even more complicated in Group B, where for most of the night it appeared South Africa would advance.
Spain had six points to lead the group starting the evening, South Africa had four, Paraguay one and Slovenia none. A tie for South Africa would have been enough to see that country through to the second round and twice the South Africans rallied to tie the game.
But Gonzalez Blanco Raul scored his second goal of the match in the 56th minute to give Spain a 3-2 victory.
Even so, it seemed as if South Africa would advance because Slovenia owned a 1-0 lead over Paraguay at halftime and Paraguay needed to win the game by at least two goals to have a chance of overtaking South Africa in the group standings. And that is what Paraguay did.
Despite playing a man down for most of the match, Paraguay scored three times in the final 25 minutes with Cueves recording the third of those goals -- beating three defenders at the top of the penalty area and putting a left-footed blast past Slovenian goalkeeper Mladen Dabanovic.
Paraguay and South Africa both wound up with four points from their three group games. Both scored exactly the same number of goals they gave up. But because Paraguay scored more goals (six) than South Africa (five), it was Paraguay that advanced.
The first half of the round of 16 was set with the completion of Wednesday's action.
The knockout portion of the tournament will begin Saturday with Germany facing Paraguay and Denmark taking on England. On Sunday, it will be Sweden meeting Senegal and Spain playing Ireland.
More drama is expected Thursday when the final games are played in Group C and Group G.
In Group C, Brazil has already clinched a spot with six points while Costa Rica has four, Turkey one and China none. Brazil meets Costa Rica with the Central American nation needing to tie the powerful Brazilians to ensure a second-round berth.
In order for Turkey to get to the second round, it must beat China and Costa Rica must lose to Brazil. In addition, Turkey must make up a three-goal deficit against Costa Rica in the first tiebreaker.
Mexico leads Group G with six points, but must face Italy, which has three. Croatia, with three points, takes on Ecuador, which has none. Wins by Croatia and Italy, which are the expected results, would leave three teams with six points each and goal differential would then break the tie.
Kim leads Evian Masters
EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France, June 12 (UPI) -- Mi Hyun Kim of Korea fired a 6-under-par 66 Wednesday to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the $2.1 million Evian Masters.
The tournament matches the top players from the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour, including four-time 2002 LPGA Tour winner and reigning Player of the Year Annika Sorenstam of Sweden.
Sorenstam, the 2000 champion, carded a 68 with five birdies and a bogey and is tied for fourth place with seven golfers.
Kim converted four birdies on her first six holes and closed with birdies on 16 and 17.
"She (Kim) likes this golf course," said Kim's caddie, Worth Blackwelder. "She feels very comfortable here, the golf course sets up well for her game."
Carin Koch of Sweden and Mhairi McKay of Scotland each carded 5-under 67s to tie for second.
Koch was 6-under before she bogeyed the 16th. She had five birdies, two bogeys and eagled the 477-yard, par-5 seventh hole with a three-wood to 10 feet.
McKay had five birdies and three bogeys before closing with birdies on the final two holes.
Sorenstam's day got off to a rough start with a bogey on the third hole after missing the green, but bounced back with birdies on 7, 8, 9, 11 and 18.
"The greens change here," Sorenstam said. "The formula in 2000 worked then, but it didn't work last year and it's not going to work this year. I haven't figured out a new formula yet, but I'm working on it."
Laura Diaz, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, Karine Icher, Emilee Klein and Koreans Gloria Park and Grace Park also carded 68s.
Se Ri Pak of Korea, the winner of last week's LPGA Championship, shot a 71, and defending champion Rachel Teske struggled with a 76.
The Evian Masters made its debut as an official LPGA Tour event in 2000, with Sorenstam winning in a playoff over Webb.
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