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Knicks' health didn't improve in Game 1

SAN ANTONIO -- Larry Johnson is feeling worse, not better. Chris Dudley has a hyperextended elbow. Marcus Camby's leg is bruised.

The injury-depleted Knicks, already without Patrick Ewing, didn't get any healthier in Game 1 of the NBA Finals."Larry didn't do any damage, but obviously when you play on something that's hurting it doesn't feel well the next day," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Marcus, I saw him icing, Dudley's got a hyperextended elbow that's pretty swollen."

Being so banged up won't make Van Gundy change his starting lineup tonight.

Johnson, playing on a sprained knee, had to guard David Robinson at the outset of Game 1 and quickly picked up two fouls. Van Gundy said he wouldn't put Kurt Thomas in the starting lineup to match up with Robinson because he doesn't want Johnson's knee to stiffen when he's warmed up and ready to go.

The coach also doesn't want to put Johnson at small forward and use Latrell Sprewell as a reserve for two reasons: He needs Sprewell's scoring at the start of the game, and he doesn't want the hobbled Johnson to have to guard the quicker Sean Elliott.

"I'm not sitting out no games. If I was going to sit out, I would have sat out (Wednesday)," Johnson said. "And that's good for my psyche. It's like 'OK, this hurts, but let's go play basketball.' "

COMPARING '98 AND '99: Asked if he thought the Spurs could beat last year's Chicago Bulls, Steve Kerr didn't hesitate in answering.

"A wise man once told me never bet against Michael Jordan," said Kerr, who is trying to win a title for the fourth straight year.

Kerr has a unique perspective on this year's finals, given his experience in these situations the past three years with the Bulls and his familiarity with the Knicks, who were once his fiercest rivals in the Eastern Conference.

He played nine inauspicious minutes in Game 1, missing a free throw after a technical foul and going 0-for-2 from the field.

Kerr sees a lot of confidence in his locker room, but it's a different kind from what he's used to.

"The Bulls' confidence was more in their past, knowing they had done it over and over again. This is more of a sense of enjoyment for this team, 'Wow, here we're are, we're rolling and lets's keep it going.' It's fun, but we still haven't done what we have to do."

CONTROVERSY DU JOUR: At his off-day press conference, Van Gundy was asked about the latest tidbit of turmoil.

"Which report? There's a lot of them out there," he said, drawing laughs.

The most recent one said Sprewell would prefer to play for the Atlanta Hawks next season if Van Gundy returns as New York's coach. Sprewell, who has one year remaining on his contract, was unhappy earlier in the season when Van Gundy was using him as a reserve.

This latest minicontroversy barely made a ripple in the locker room, where the Knicks players have learned to tune out all the turmoil that has surrounded the team all season.

"First of all, it wasn't distracting," Van Gundy said. "I don't think our team can be distracted. If it couldn't be distracted by now, it couldn't be because of some new report."

Much is also being muttered about Camby's distaste for the way Van Gundy limited his minutes earlier in the season, although Camby hasn't said anything publicly to that effect.

"We have a great working relationship," Camby said. "We understand each other. He trusts me, I trust him and we just go from there."

Said Van Gundy: "The supposedly strained relationship between myself and Marcus, and myself and Latrell, are far overblown. In fact, those two guys have been as coachable as any two guys on this team. If there are problems, they have problems with me because I don't have any problems with them."