No witzki

May 27, 2003 5:33 AM

The NBA Finals begin next Tuesday and the Eastern Conference representatives for the second straight season will be the New Jersey Nets.

New Jersey, swept by the Los Angeles Lakers last season, is enjoying a run through the playoffs only few teams have experienced. In sweeping Detroit to make the NBA Finals, the Nets have won 10 straight games.

San Antonio, the likely opponent for New Jersey, takes a 3-1 series lead back home for Tuesday’s fifth game against short-handed Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki, arguably the best player on a talented and deep Mavericks team, was injured in Game 3 and his absence was clearly felt in Game 4. Shawn Bradley, a key defensive contributor, is out for the balance of the playoffs.

San Antonio is a solid 8-point favorite to wrap up the series in five, even though Nowitzki is listed as questionable. San Antonio owns home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Should the Mavericks win Game 5, they would be the play at home in Game 6. Dallas did start the season 14-0 and owned the NBA’s top record most of the way.

If there is a Game 7 over the weekend, the play is San Antonio at home. The line would probably be at least 6 or 7, but history is strongly on the side of home teams in Game 7.