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STRIKE FEVER? NOW IT'S THE NBA'S TURN

The president of the NBA Players Association says if the league's players are not locked out by the club owners first, they are apt to go on strike.

"We feel there is going to be a strike," Buck Williams said. "That's the path we're headed down right now."The Portland Trail Blazers power forward said he and other NBA players are growing increasingly concerned.

"To avoid a strike, you have to exhaust all your means at the bargaining table, which we've already done," Williams said. "We're in the fourth quarter. Things are heating up, and I don't know how you throw out a lifeline right now."

Williams was in Chicago last weekend for a meeting of player representatives and union officials.

"We're ready for a war," he said upon his return to Portland.

He said talk that management might lock out players if there is no bargaining agreement "doesn't surprise me. It sort of angers me."

If there is a lockout, he said, "We're still going to show up for work. And we will set up some exhibition games, or start a whole new league."

Some doubt has been expressed about whether the NBA players are united about their union's position, especially at a time of unprecedented prosperity. But Williams said the players are willing to strike over the salary cap issue.

The players want to eliminate the cap. The league wants to keep it, and strengthen it to eliminate some perceived loopholes.

There have been no negotiations since May, and the contract with the players association expired in June. The union is waiting for a federal court to rule on its appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld the validity of the salary cap, the free agency system and the college draft.

"Historically, it's taken a year and a half to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement," Williams said. "Considering the NBA wants to make the cap even more restrictive, right now it's hard to see a quick solution."