Duncan is the man for the millennium

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The Independent Online

San Antonio's Tim Duncan was just the tonic the ailing NBA needed following last year's 'lockout' - the ugly labour dispute which almost cancelled the season - and Michael Jordan's retirement.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan was just the tonic the ailing NBA needed following last year's 'lockout' - the ugly labour dispute which almost cancelled the season - and Michael Jordan's retirement.

Now the Virgin Islands star is set to emulate Jordan and the Chicago Bulls by leading the Spurs to a succession of titles in the new millennium.

Duncan and the Spurs thrashed the New York Knicks 4-1 in their best of seven NBA Finals last season. They launch their title defence tonight at the Alamodome against the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Hands down, he's the best player in the league," said team-mate Sean Elliott.

"He's obviously the best player in the NBA," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy.

"And not just because of his skill level. I think his maturity, his knowledge of the game, that he cares just about winning. You can just watch a guy play and know if he's truly into winning or not. That guy's truly into winning."

Duncan is coming off one of the most dominating performances by a centre in the history of the game.

He averaged more than 27 points - accounting for a third of the Spurs output - and grabbed 14 rebounds per contest in their 4-1 series triumph over the Knicks.

The are many lasting memories of Duncan's performance against the Knicks.

He repeatedly made banks shots from 15 to 18 feet, or spun in the lane and converted soft jump hooks (shots), swatted opponents' shots in the lane and ruled the boards, denying the Knicks second shots.

"I'm trying to make something special and keep on winning," Duncan said. "We had a good start with last year with the heck of a team we had. We're trying to keep that going."

"We have some new guys...once everybody is used to our system and we get rolling, we'll be good."

Elliott, one of the old hands, is not back this season after having a kidney transplant last summer.

British star John Amaechi, meanwhile, makes his official return to the NBA tonight when he and the Orlando Magic travel to the Charlotte Hornets.

Amaechi, who played with the Sheffield Sharks two years ago, began his professional career with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995.

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