Golden State Warriors Coach Don Nelson is no stranger to the psychology of the NBA playoffs. That much was obvious this past weekend when he wasted little time in establishing his club as a bunch of lowly overachievers who are just lucky to still be alive following the regular

season."There's the Big Three in the Western Conference," he said, meaning the Lakers, the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz. "And then there are the rest of us. It's going to take a near miracle for the Big Three to get beat. I'm not saying we can't do it, but it's not going to be easy."

This, from a man who got 23 more wins out of the Warriors than they managed in 1987-88, before he took over as coach . . . and from a man that must play the Jazz, the Suns and the Lakers if he hopes to make it to the NBA finals.

PLAYOFF PAY: The Jazz have already won $74,375 in playoff money. They got $40,000 for having the third-best record in the Western conference and $34,375 for qualifying for the first round.

But there's plenty more to be made. Teams playing in the second round get $41,250, and then an additional $68,750 if they make it into the third round. Survivors making it to the NVA finals get $275,000 and the winner of the title gets an additional $135,000. Grand total: $601,375, or about 1/50th of what Larry Miller needs to build his new arena.

BEARISH ON MCMAHON: A semi-surprise from Sunday's NFL draft was that Chicago did not deal quarterback Jim McMahon, as had been speculated. One persistent rumor had the former BYU quarterback going to San Diego for significant draft choices and/or veteran personnel. But the Bears didn't think enough was offered their way.

Said Chicago Coach Mike Ditka: "If somebody wants an orchard for an apple, it's not going to happen." McMahon could take that as a compliment if he wanted to.

COUGARS A ROLE MODEL: When Liberty University, a school of about 5,000 students in Virginia, grows up it wants to be just like BYU and Notre Dame. More or less.

"I think that now is a good time for Liberty to attempt to become, for evangelical young people, what Brighanm Young is for the Mormon youth, Notre Dame for the Roman Catholic youth; that is, a world-class university both academically and athletically," said the school's founder, Jerry Falwell.

Falwell doesn't want Liberty's athletic teams to just a part of the the silent majority anymore. He wants to Division I, Top 20 caliber. To that end he recently hired former Cleveland Browns Coach Sam Rutigliano as Liberty's head football coach. To do so, Falwell had to fire Morgan Hout, last year's coach. All Hout did with the Div. I-AA program was go 8-3 and earn distinction as Virginia's collegiate coach of the year.

"He wants to go big time," Rutigliano said of Falwell's plans. This fall, the Liberty Flames will play their first Div. I-A football opponent, Eastern Michigan, and all their games will be televised on a cable network called FamilyNet. Falwell worked out the TV negotiations. He owns the TV network as well.

ADD NFL DRAFT, HUMILITY DEPT.: "Neon" Deion Sanders, the Florida State defensive back drafted by Atlanta, is already playing Double-A baseball in the New York Yankees organization, and said he sees himself as a two-sport professional man. But not necessarily like Bo Jackson.

"I don't want to just play football and baseball and do all right," said Sanders. "I want to play them both and excel at both."

NOTE OF THE WEEK: The NBA sent this stat out in its 1989 Playoffs Media Kit: "Only twice in NBA history has a team bounced back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five series. The 1956 Fort Wayne Pistons lost the first two games but rallied to defeat the St. Louis Hawks in the Western Division Finals, and the 1987 Golden State Warriors erased a 2-0 deficit and defeated the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference First Round."