By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Who do you pull for?

Who you wit??

Sam Cassell & Steve Nash
Chris Carlson/AP Photo
Who are you pulling for, Sam Cassell or Steve Nash?

Steve or Sam?

We all know it's LeBron's world, but these guys ain't living in it rent-free. They own acres.

So, who's your dude? Which one, for the next three games, are you going to roll with? Ride or die with? Risk a paycheck on?

They are the centerpieces of the franchises they play for. The most valuable player versus the player valued the most. The one who has two rings but won't be inducted in the Hall of Fame versus the one that has two trophies that guarantee his HOF stature but is still trying to get where the other's already been.

By this time next week, one still will be playing, the other gone fishin'. And the fate of their teams rests solely on how they play. On which one out-balls the other.

So the question remains Bernie Mac: Who you wit??

Pick one. You have to make a decision quick. Both bandwagons are getting very crowded, very quickly.

"Not as committed," is what the coach told them.

At some point, he knows those words are going to seep through.

It's either heaven or hell with this squad. No in between, no earth and no purgatory.

Which team is going to show up Tuesday night? Which one for Game 6? Game 7?

Their tempo swings like the moods of a woman in her third trimester. You just never know. They win games they're supposed to lose, or win games they're supposed to win. Shoot 35 percent, win; shoot 30 percent, lose. Score under 100, win; score over 100, lose. Game 3: 94 points, win. Game 4: 107, lose. Go figure.

Steve Nash
Chris Carlson/AP Photo
When Nash has the Suns' offense rolling, they're extremely difficult to beat.

They have droughts that would make a camel drink sand. Play like the name of their team is having an effect on them. Then a levee breaks. All of a sudden points pile up quicker than friends who duck while hunting with Dick Cheney. Rebound, Nash, ball movement, splash. Rebound, Nash, ball movement, splash. For every point they give up, they score three. Or four. Or five, depending on the other team's shooting percentage during the run.

They are resilient beyond understanding. The basketball version of the Red Sox circa two years ago versus the Yankees. Playing against a team that virtually has nothing to lose, with a player who loses nothing. And if Mike D'Antoni is telling Steve Nash that his team is not playing as committed as it should, what does he think Mike Dunleavy is telling Sam Cassell in the other locker room? Or on the other plane? At practice? On the other bus riding to the next game?

The same thing? Is he telling him that? Even though his team is as constant as the Atlanta Braves in the National League circa 14 years ago 'til now. No mood faking, no mood swings. His team is not so much resilient as it is constantly grinding. Win after win, loss after loss. With them it's always heaven and hell -- never either. This is how they continue.

Which is why the other coach will tell Sam nothing that Sam isn't telling himself, or nothing that he hasn't heard. Nothing Sam didn't tell Steve when Steve came into the league.

See, Steve lets Sam call him "Rook." Ever since he came into the league -- when Sam was doing a bid in a Suns uniform before being shipped to the Mavericks (with Michael Finley) for Jason Kidd and then to the Nets, which led to Nash going to Dallas, while Kidd would eventually end up with Cassell's spot in New Jersey while Steve came back to PHX -- the two have been at opposite ends of the NBA spectrum, but still Siamese at the hip.

Steve being Sam's backup. Then.

Now … one has two MVPs, the other has only one All-Star appearance. Yet, if you ask players around the league who's the best player, who's the player they least want to face, the one who presents the most clear and present danger at this time of year, Cassell gets more mentions than any other player left in the playoffs. Except maybe Steve.

At the same time, no player in the game has a bigger impact on his team's fate -- whether they win or not -- than Nash. Except maybe Sam.

Don't believe it? Sam: 2 for 10, six points in Game 3, Clips lose; Steve: 3 for 11, eight points in Game 4, Suns lose.

Which is why this series is so special, why this battle is so classic, why the next two or three games should be TiVo'd for life. And why you have to make a choice now.

It will be a long time before we see two point guards with this much responsibility, with this much control, savvy and pride, this connected, go at it head-to-hairdo to determine the rise or fall of their team's season.

It might never happen again. Not like this. Because once this series is over (unless Clippers owner Donald Sterling re-signs Sam after the season) Cassell and Nash might never see each other on this stage again. In a dead heat with this much on the line. This might be the completion of a twisted career circle of two players who are mirror-images of each other but look totally different when their reflections return.

Which is why you must choose. Because for one, that reflection will be eternal.

They walked up to the podium inside the Staples Center after the game was over. Separated only by a few minutes. One wearing an orange Ralph Lauren, the other wearing an off-white button-up.

Beauty and a beast.

Sam Cassell
Chris Carlson/AP Photo
Cassell has hit so many clutch shots in the playoffs over the years.

The contrast in words as contrasting as the style they bless the court with. A contrast between Game 3 and Game 4.

"We don't have that killer instinct, that focus that comes with experience," Steve said of his team, sounding like Sam after the third game. Of his performance, "I just gotta play a little better. I'm not playing well at the moment."

"I enjoy the situation when it's tight. Basketball is a game of mistakes and those that make the least amount of mistakes win basketball games," is how Sam referred to the fourth game situation. Sounding like Steve, two days before.

Both have the knowledge that there's T.I.-like motivation in their words. Both have the knowledge that after the next game the other could be saying those same exact words.

Whether they saw each other before they left is unknown. But without seeing each other, they probably saw where the other one was. Both left L.A. knowing they will see each other at least two more times before it's all over.

Both probably would like to see one another a third time.

It's that moment of choice. Will the MVP bounce back versus WWSSLLD (What Would Sam Cassell Do)?

And now that the pressure is on the Rook to do his best imitation of the Vet, and then for Sam to do his best impersonation of Steve in the game after that, the question will then return to where it all began: Who you wit??

Pick one.

The choice is yours.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.