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Wild West' ends tonight with Game 7

By By Austin Bishop / regional sports director
June 2, 2002
Surfing the sports scene on a Sunday morning while wondering whatever happened to Fred McNair …
Lock the doors and bar the windows, there will be war tonight at 6 p.m.
That's when the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers meet for the seventh and final time in the NBA's Western Conference finals.
The NBA finals begin on Wednesday with the winner of Sunday's game playing host to the New Jersey Nets at 9 p.m. That series will have to go a long way to top the one between the Kings and Lakers.
The last three games in the series have been decided by a total of six points. I don't want to give the Lakers the kiss of death, but L.A. may have an advantage going into tonight's game, despite the fact it will be played in Sacramento's Arco Arena.
While the Kings did have the better regular-season record, the Lakers are still the defending champs and they still have Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
Once L.A. drew even by winning game six, the scales tipped in favor of the Lakers.
Many NBA conspiracy theorists are likely whining and wailing and screaming that the NBA pushed this series to seven games just to keep the interest and ratings up.
Well, it certainly has kept the interest and ratings up, but the reason this series went to seven games is because the two teams are virtually dead even.
The Nets will be a decided underdog against either of the Western Conference foes, but New Jersey has a much better chance against the Kings than the Lakers.
The Lakers are a proven playoff club, and will be able to fight off a tough series, then tangle for the championship. The Kings on the other hand, may have extended themselves as far as they can trying to dispatch L.A.
Let's just hope the NBA Finals are nearly as interesting as the Western Conference title series.
Take a look at the Braves now
I have been pretty nice to all of those Atlanta Braves naysayers for the first two months of the season.
But look at the standings now. The Braves have won 12 of 16 Q despite having players fall to injuries left and right Q and find themselves on top of the NL East.
Yes, there is a long way to go in the season and the Mets are still in the hunt and, quite frankly, are the only team in the East who can really give Atlanta a run for its money.
The Braves will likely fall back in the standings again, but this run has proven that Atlanta can still compete with and beat the better teams in the league Cincinnati is leading the NL Central. And as long as the Mets aren't in front by five games going into September, then the Braves are certainly the team to beat. If Montreal or Florida is ahead, it will not worry the Atlanta squad whatsoever.
The fact Atlanta has won 10 straight division titles is still an amazing feat to think about. While it is surely disappointing that only one World Series title has come out of that, to be that consistently good for so long is a sign of good leadership at the top of the ladder.
Mark Hogan makes return to Alabama
It was interesting to read about Southeast Missouri's early success in the NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament being played in Tuscaloosa this weekend.
Southeast Missouri head coach Mark Hogan led the University of West Alabama then Livingston University Tigers in the early 1990s.
He moved from there to Southeast Missouri, where he has obviously built a solid baseball program. You have to wonder if he ever imagined himself back in Alabama playing in the same Regional with both Alabama and Auburn. His team's win over the University of Alabama on Friday had to be a special thrill for Hogan.