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Is cursed, not is cursing, although he's probably that, too.
The affable ex-Raptor head coach — well, more irascible than affable — moved on to Indiana but he's still being followed by a string of bad luck.
The Pacers, arguably the most disappointing team in the league this season, have used 24 different starting lineups in a season marred by injuries, brawls and inconsistency.
And for O'Neill, who didn't really handle Toronto's injury woes too well a season ago, it's got to be sickening.
It is to head coach Rick Carlisle.
"Hey, we're not trying to set those kinds of records, but for whatever reason, it's happened to us this year," Carlisle said. "It's challenging for a coaching staff, but it's even more challenging for the players not to have that consistency.
"When you have injuries and suspensions, it throws off your season. We just have to keep playing because we're right in the thick of the playoff race still."
But maybe not for long.
Word is the shoulder injury to all-star power forward Jermaine O'Neal is worse than originally thought and he might be out for a while yet. With a schedule that includes games with Miami (twice), Washington (twice), San Antonio and Detroit, we think it's a stretch that the Pacers make it to the post-season.
This is asking a wee bit too much. The New Orleans Hornets, for some reason known only to their owner, have an invocation before each home game.
It makes a few folks feel uneasy but to each their own.
Anyway, before a Charlotte-New Orleans game last week, the woman doing the pre-game prayer may have stepped over the line.
"Satan," she said, "take your hands off of these boys. They're good boys. Let them win tonight."
Lo and behold, the Hornets won.
We presume it was because the Bobcats aren't so good rather than divine intervention.
Now, that's some milestone. The Chicago Bulls won in Portland last Wednesday to improve their record to 31-27. No big deal, you say?
Well, it's the first time since 1998, after that Jordan fellow left, that the Bulls have won more than 30 games in a season. Break out the bubbly!
NO CUSSIN' FUSSIN'
Sit courtside at any NBA game and you're going to get a dose of, um, well, um, colourful language, to say the least.
Coaches, players and even reporters can be very inventive with invective. Golden State coach Mike Montgomery takes things in an entirely different direction.
He was perturbed by a call during a game in Philadelphia last week and let the officials know of his displeasure in no uncertain terms.
"Holy smokes!" he yelled. "Sake's alive!"
That's stuff you don't hear too often.
Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Don Nelson, Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Satch Sanders, Dave Cowens, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Chris Ford.
That's a list of the former Celtic players who went on to be head coaches in the NBA, a list that branches out from the Red Auerbach family tree.
What's that say about them?
"That we're not as smart as everybody thought we were," said McHale.
TIM'S LIGHTER SIDE
They keep telling us that Tim Duncan has a great sense a humour, that he's a locker room cut-up and not the dour soul we see on the court. Seems they might be telling us the truth.
In a rare glimpse of his personality, the San Antonio all-star threw a scare into teammates when he sprained his right ankle against Utah a week ago, on the same day the Spurs were honouring Sean Elliott in a post-game ceremony.
The ceremony was a bit muted by the memory of Duncan writhing on the court in the pain and dreams of an NBA championship disappearing.
"It was my feeble attempt to steal the spotlight from Sean Elliott," said Duncan. "Everybody was saying, `Sean's retiring, his jersey is in the rafters, he's a great guy.' I honestly felt left out. So I felt at some point I should do something to refocus ... on me."
OWNER WINGING IT
Somehow, we don't see Larry Tanenbaum doing this. Phoenix owner Robert Sarver, who might otherwise be an intelligent businessman, stood courtside before a Suns-San Antonio game last week flapping his arms like a chicken.
Not sure if it was too many meds or the fact he was unimpressed with San Antonio sitting out Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for what was a pretty important Western Conference game.
"Yeah, we saw him and I have no comment on that," said San Antonio's Robert Horry. "I just think he's trying to be another Mark Cuban. You know? Get your own identity."
Just what NBA ownership needs, another buffoon like Cuban who likes to stand near the team huddle during Dallas Maverick timeouts, pretending he's doing something more important than eavesdropping.
NO HEAT BREAKS
Pretty soon, teams headed to the NBA playoffs will be thinking about resting players to keep them fresh.
Don't look for the Miami Heat, the second-best team in the East (Detroit's No.1, it says here) to give anyone extended breaks during games.
"What everybody sees are the games and I think that's almost crazy," said Miami coach Stan Van Gundy. "The difference between a guy playing 36 minutes and 32 minutes? It's almost ludicrous to say that difference is going to save a guy in the playoffs. It's what you do between those games, on an everyday basis, and how that guy takes care of himself."
That means a regular dose of Shaquille O'Neal for all opponents.
Rough start for Webber
By Mark Murphy/ NBA Notes
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Those boos that Jim O'Brien [news] heard weren't just directed at his new star after a horrible loss to Golden State last Tuesday in the Wachovia Center.
The Philly jeers were also aimed at the Sixers' homegrown coach, who discovered after his first seven games with Chris Webber that chemistry requires more than a simple plug-in.
Defensive rotations, the engine in any effective O'Brien team, have broken down. Webber has discovered that O'Brien's minutes rationing can be as tough to absorb as Dick Harter's defensive schemes. The anticipated meshing of Webber and Allen Iverson is still, well, in the anticipation stage. If anything, Iverson has looked worse despite his incredible scoring run over the last month. He turned the ball over a franchise-record 12 times against the Warriors.
And Webber has already complained about his developing, and sometimes murky, role.
Doc Rivers likes to talk about how most onlookers picked the Sixers over the Celtics to win the Atlantic Division after both teams made cw-3their huge deadline week trades.
But the Celtics coach's spin hasn't carried much weight in the early going of the Atlantic stretch run.
Not when the Sixers, with their golden ($17.5 million this year) addition, has gone 4-4 in the first eight games of the Webber era while the Celtics have gone 6-1 over the same stretch with Antoine Walker [news].
Webber, already showing his sensitive side, didn't linger to talk with reporters after the Golden State loss, during which he scored eight points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Though the embattled forward's fragile history was largely obscured from easterners during his six-plus seasons in soft and warm Sacramento, there's not much left to the imagination now in the place Johnny Most once called ``The City of Brotherly Hate.''
Put to the fire on his new team, Webber shot 41-of-119 (.345) in his first seven games while averaging 14.4 points and eight rebounds. New teammate Rodney Rogers, with Webber not caring to speak for himself, said the power forward appears to be pressing because ``he wants to win so bad.'' [continue]
O'Brien brushed off the confidence issue when he said, ``I have a lot of concerns, not necessarily about his confidence.''cw0
Perhaps the sagest advice, however, came from Iverson, clearly the most consuming scorer Webber has ever had to share the floor with.cw-2
In Webber's defense, he has gone from Sacramento - one of the best passing teams in the NBA - to Philadelphia, which has one of the most funneled attacks in basketball behind Iverson. But Iverson's words certainly cut to the core.
``I told (Webber) it was going to be tough,'' he said. ``I let him know people are going to expect him to be the Chris Webber you've been all your career the first day you get here. The first game you don't play well, they'll get on you.
``I'm not saying anything negative about the people here,'' said Iverson. ``It's just basketball to them. They love their basketball. They want us to win.
``I've been in Philadelphia for nine years and I've seen way worse than that. I've been booed. Why would it bother me if someone else gets booed? This is Philadelphia. This is as real as it gets. It doesn't get any harder than this. It doesn't get any worse than this.''
Iverson seems to like it that way. If the Sixers have any hope of staying ahead of the Nets, or somehow catching the Celtics, Webber needs to share AI's view.
A time to grow up
After shedding 40 pounds, and desisting from annoying demands for a maximum contract extension, Eddy Curry became a huge part of Chicago's feel good story.
But Bulls coach Scott Skiles has a particularly low tolerance level when it comes to subpar effort, and the 24-year-old Curry once again appears to be whining more than he is actually working. As a result, Skiles benched Curry for most of the second half in games against the Spurs and Bucks last week, and wasn't in the mood to hear about Curry's potential. Instead, he is now playing the more energetic and defense-minded Tyson Chandler down the stretch of games. [continue]
You guys have had an expectation of Eddy,'' Skiles, who sounded like he was washing his hands of the problem, said to the Chicago media. ``I don't know if it was even realistic to begin with. I wasn't even here then. I wasn't part of all that. I've only known him for the last 14 to 15 months.''
Skiles makes it sound like 14 to 15 years.
Late roster move
When Brian Shaw rejoined the Lakers as an assistant coach this season, the one-time Celtic understood that it hadn't been so long (a season) since his retirement from the game. But some apparently never missed him.
When the Lakers traveled to Portland for a recent game against the Blazers, the well-dressed Shaw, who developed a love for Italian suits from his brief tour of duty in Rome, was stunned to notice that his game-time outfit wasn't noticed by the scoring crew. In fact, he could have still been in uniform, considering that his name appeared at the bottom of the box score with a DNP-CD attached.
March 13, 2005 -- DAVE Checketts and Phil Jackson both deny they met recently to discuss a "position" with the Knicks' organization.
At the risk of getting it right the second time, it seems the Pistons aren't as opposed to trading Larry Brown to the Knicks after this season, as I once believed.
Still, don't get suckered into thinking a negligible first round pick or two is enough to secure such superiority. Bill Davidson views his commander as a "max" coach, therefore will demand max compensation should he decide to take that route.
Then again, should Brown make it a habit of donating points to opponents when the Pistons can least afford it, Davidson may take whatever the Knicks are willing to scrounge up just to get out from under the burden of his $6 million per contract.
Irate at a delayed/invalid call that placed Paul Pierce on the welfare line late in the second overtime of the Celtics' freaky Friday conquest of the NBA's defending champs, Brown went out of his way to get 'teed up.' Consequently, not only did Pierce convert two free throws that closed the gap to one but capitalized on Brown's generous contribution and deadlocked matters.
It reminds me of a sober lesson learned in 1971, my intro to the Harlem Professional (Rucker) Tournament. After an early season one-point loss referee Lee Evans gently pointed out that a technical foul I earned in the first quarter proved costly.
Luckily for Brown the Celtics won by a deuce instead of a single digit, otherwise I would hardly be the lone ranger zeroing in on his foolishness.
For you unfortunates without NBA-TV, Pierce's performance was pluperfect cubed; 12 rebounds, zero turnovers, 38 points, including nine of Boston's 11 in the deciding spare session and the outcome settler, as well as nicking Tayshaun Prince's last second liftoff from three.
So plush it obscured a brain drain foul by Gary Payton that gave Chauncey Billups the regulation-tying opportunity to triple clutch three foul shots with just fewer than seven ticks left on the tock.
So plush it masked Antoine Walker's trashy marksmanship (15 misses in 19 attempts) and two victory-threatening turnovers in one OT or the other, his first limp production since rejoining the Celtics seven games ago.
(Watching Walker work the baseline and bounce the ball off his own foot out of bounds evoked a nightmarish image of Bob McAdoo's darkest hour of his career spent in Boston)
So plush Phil Jackson (he can't fool me) is angling to hitch up with the Celtics and win his tenth title on Red Auerbach's hallowed ground.
By the way, the Vitamin C's (hovering four above the equator) are hereby ordered to cease and desist their winning ways before they give the frigid Atlantic Division a good name.
In that same clogged vein, who would've thought a home game vs. the expansionist Charlotte Bobcats six weeks before the end of the season would've been a must win for the 76ers?
As always, Doug Collins knows not what he's talking about. Claiming Chris Crawford's season-ending injury was a devastating blow to the Hawks obviously was a stretch. Check out who snuck across the Canadian border and snuck away with an OT win; thus Atlanta snapped its moderately meek spell of 23 consecutive road misadventures and overall smudge of 13 straight defeats.
Immediately afterward, the Raptors accused Vince Carter of not fully applying himself.
Miscarrying and misguided a month or more into the season, the blissfully balanced Bulls (gored Friday's final four points in the last 12 seconds to beat the Sonics in Seattle) have forged into a second place tie with the Cavaliers in the Central (Booking) Division.
The Bulls in general, and Ben Gordon (14 of his 22 in the fourth; leads the league with 18 double figure scoring in that quadrant) in particular, have become as dangerous an end ensemble as the league has to offer.
So dangerous, Phil Jackson covertly submitted an updated resume.
Seattle, on the other hand, invades Fun City this evening schlepping a season-high three-game slide, lowlighted by yet another disturbance by Danny Pigtails, expelled from a recent practice for being himself, an out-of-control wangsta; he verbally fought the law and Nate McMillan won.
If you're Isiah Thomas it doesn't get any better than Herb Williams vs. McMillan. His dream matchup: Two of the great young basketball minds in the game today.
Since this is Selection Sunday, I'm soliciting help with my Rick Neuheisel-sanctioned NCAA pool. Do I take the schools with the worst GPA, the highest payroll or the most thugs? Shilly Packer, please advise.
I appreciate so many people alerting me by phone that Elgin Baylor retired in '71 (after nine games), not '70 (after two), only next time keep your giddiness to a low roar.
At the same time I want to apologize for excluding Mike Bibby from my "Every team should have one . . . list." Since Chris Webber was traded eight games ago (you know very well Peja Stojakovic is next to go come summer) the pressure point guard has led or tied the Kings (5-3) in scoring six times. More significantly, he locked down the last two (Grizzlies and Clippers) with serene accuracy.
How good is Bibby? Geoff Petrie says Sacramento's only untouchables are Mike and Pete Carril.
This just in: Jerry Buss refuses to confirm or deny reports he asked his daughter for Phil Jackson's hand. Sources say Jeanie Buss objected but said she wouldn't have a problem if they simply cheated on her.
If you're waiting for another interminable NBA regular season to end, try to catch a glimpse of North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament - especially in the odd moments when Roy Williams puts freshman Marvin Williams on the floor.
Then you'll see what all the fuss is about.
Despite playing only about 22 minutes a game for the Tar Heels, the 6-9 Williams is rated by NBA execs and scouts as a top-five pick in this June's draft and a better pro prospect than Carolina's big-name stars, Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants. Williams hasn't decided whether he is staying at UNC, and has until May 14 to enter the NBA draft.
"He's going to be an absolute stud in our league," said one Western Conference GM. "You can tell that already, even though he never has his number called. The way they use him, he has to get the ball off the glass to get his hands on it."
In other words, this isn't Jim Boeheim giving Carmelo Anthony the ball, knowing full well that Syracuse would amount to a one-year stop. They do it differently at Carolina.
As Roy Williams has made the freshman pay his dues, Marvin Williams has taken only seven shots per contest. But his modest averages (11 ppg, 6.5 rpg) translate into big-time numbers if he played starter's minutes.
What will the highly-touted forward do? Although he's guaranteed to go high in the lottery, Carolina has been busy trying to convince him to stay for his sophomore season. They're selling him on the fact that they'll make him a featured player in 2006.
Meanwhile, his better-known teammates aren't turning any heads. Although listed by the school at 6-9, May is seen by most in the NBA as an undersized power forward with little shooting range. Felton, a 6-1 point guard, is considered a weak shooter. McCants has already scared off more than a few teams with his baggage.
We're still a few months from players having private workouts with NBA teams, but Andrew Bogut, a 7-footer out of Utah via Australia, is already projected by several GMs as the No. 1 overall pick. Among the sophomore's attributes: He has a great feel for the game and a high skill level (21 ppg, 12 rpg). One scout called him, "a 2005 version of Vlade Divac." Scouts are interested to see how he fares in the NCAA Tournament when he meets up with faster players and better competition.
The Hawks and Bobcats figure to finish 1-2 for the worst record, and both covet Wake Forest sophomore Chris Paul. Charlotte GM-coach Bernie Bickerstaff would like a future big-man/point-guard pairing of Paul and Emeka Okafor. "He's an instinctive point guard," Bickerstaff has told associates. Listed at 6-0, which is stretching it, according to scouts, Paul compares in stature to Milwaukee's T.J. Ford, but he's considered a better player. If he opts to stay another year at Wake, a definite possibility, Paul still figures to be a top-five pick in 2006.
Pro scouts are at a loss as to why Pitt's Chris Taft, a Xaverian grad, doesn't get more shots. But they think the sophomore from Coney Island is a lock to come out and will be be a top-10 pick, even if he only got about 10 shots a game for the Panthers. NBA execs like his size (6-10) and the fact that he can be a back-to-the-basket player, as opposed to the numerous European big men who come in with only face-up games.
Like North Carolina, UConn has several potential pros in its stable, with 6-9 Rudy Gay projected as a top-five pick down the road. Gay and forward Josh Boone are expected to stay in school for at least one more season. But the pros plan on 6-11 Charlie Villanueva entering the draft. The Brooklyn product, who has more of an overall game than Jim Calhoun allows him to show, is pegged by some scouts as a No. 15-to-20 pick. Because of his size and skills, he's one of those players whose stock could rise with some good workouts this spring.
Illinois' guards have gotten a ton of publicity, but only one, Deron Williams, is getting the attention of NBA execs. One scout compared his play in the halfcourt to Jason Kidd's. Teammate Dee Brown is considered too small to make it at shooting guard, while Luther Head is seen as a second-round pick.
Syracuse's Hakim Warrick is viewed as the best running big man in the college game and among its top leapers. But the 6-8 Warrick, who one GM called a "smaller Marcus Camby," doesn't have the offensive skills or the body to crack the top 10.
Ron Artest met recently with commissioner David Stern, but the subject of reinstatement never came up, according to persons familiar with the situation. Stern wanted to check up on Artest and see how he is handling his suspension and whether his counseling sessions are serving their purpose. Per terms of his suspension, Artest has to show league officials that he can deal with anger problems and other issues before he is reinstated for the 2005-06 season. He has been getting professional help during his time away from the Pacers. As the league has maintained since it hit Artest with a record suspension stemming from his brawl with fans at the Palace, the Pacers forward is out for the season, playoffs included.
n Sixers officials have been busy telling everyone that they did their due diligence with medical experts when researching Chris Webber's wobbly knee before pulling the trigger on their blockbuster deal with the Kings. But according to league sources, they also called around after making the trade, to quietly ask people in the know if there was more to Webber's knee than had been disclosed.
Many experts think that Dirk Nowitzki is a worthy MVP candidate. Oddly enough, Nowitzki's own coach, Don Nelson, isn't in that group. "I think you know you have to look at a turn-around team, a team like Phoenix, like Miami, who's really turned their win and loss record around. Whoever is a part of that team, a new member that's helped do that, I think those guys deserve it," Nelson said. Nelson mentioned Shaquille O'Neal and Steve Nash. As for his own star, who is posting career-bests in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, he said: "I don't think so. I don't know, I don't think he's got a chance to be MVP. Hopefully, he's not going to be leading the league in scoring, either."
WINDERMAN: NBA Sunday column
To thrive with 76ers, Webber must become more selfless
Published March 13, 2005
It is easy to place blame at the feet of Allen Iverson.
Shoots too much. Dominates the offense. Doesn't make teammates better.
True, secondary options have struggled for years in Philadelphia, from Larry Hughes to Jerry Stackhouse to Jim Jackson to Matt Harpring.
But none of those has approached Iverson's star when granted his own canvas. None has made it to the NBA Finals as Iverson did in 2001.
To be a solid supporting player, you have to be willing to support.
Which brings us to Chris Webber and Chemistry 101 in Philadelphia (home of pro sports' Boo U).
Yes, the early stages of the relationship have been ugly, and yes, Webber's shooting has been uglier. But cut Iverson some slack, especially since Jim O'Brien's simplistic offense grants Webber little beyond standing as a midrange jump shooter.
And enough about Iverson's turnovers stalling the offense. Yes, he ranks first in the league in turnovers per game. But Kobe Bryant ranks second, Dwyane Wade third, LeBron James seventh, Steve Nash ninth and Gilbert Arenas 10th. It hardly is a badge of dishonor.
What is more shameful is false pride. The last time we checked, Webber had just turned 32 and is dragging around a bum left knee.
Yet in the wake of his initial struggles in Philadelphia we've heard:
"I'm still a great player."
"I'm not going to ever get used to playing 27 minutes a game."
"In no way am I a role player, and I don't intend to be one until I retire."
This is the lesson that far too many NBA players lose sight of -- they're all role players. Sometimes the role is being a leader, sometimes the role is being a facilitator, and sometimes the role is playing in support of another.
There is no question Webber was spoiled in Sacramento, in one of the league's few remaining equal-opportunity offenses. What he shared with Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac, Bobby Jackson and Doug Christie he may never experience again.
And yet, at times, Webber bristled about his lot with the Kings. Too much pressure. Too-timid teammates. Too little respect.
One of the pleasures of the NBA is to watch veterans not only pass the torch but remain alongside to guide others. Don't minimize what Reggie Miller has done in Indiana, what David Robinson did in San Antonio and what Shaquille O'Neal is doing in South Florida.
After five All-Star selections, there quite possibly won't be a sixth for Webber. There wasn't one this season and that left knee isn't getting any better.
There comes a time when all players need to evolve. While O'Brien certainly has to create better scoring opportunities, especially in the low post, and while Iverson needs to accommodate the lone teammate who can help pull him to the playoffs, Webber, too, needs to adjust.
The time has come to get away from, "I'm a guy who has to touch the ball. I'm a facilitator and a scorer."
Instead, he has to make the concession he seemingly refused to make with the younger Stojakovic in Sacramento.
It is time for him to do what so many have demanded from Iverson over the years: Adopt a more selfless approach.
"I came here with the idea of having fun with A.I. and hopefully being in a playoff race," Webber said. "Now it's negativity and controversy. It's something that always follows me. It's not something I'm looking for, so I've just got to try to be patient."
No, he needs to become proactive. To evolve. It's how twentysomething superstars survive as thirtysomething teammates.
Humbler Lakers will greet Heat
Four days from Heat-Lakers II, it appears the visit by Kobe Bryant will have his team somewhat green with envy on St. Patrick's Day against Shaquille O'Neal.
When the teams met on Christmas Day, the Heat stood 51/2 games better in the overall standings. When they meet Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the gap will be at least twice that.
From a competitive standpoint, Heat-Lakers stands as a mismatch, but with the Lakers struggling for a spot in the playoffs that the Heat virtually has clinched, there still should be ample intrigue.
The difference this time is the new-look Lakers enter acknowledging just how much they miss O'Neal.
"It's kind of a different roster than it's been in the past," said coach Frank Hamblen, who was an assistant to Rudy Tomjanovich when the Heat won 104-102 Dec. 25 at Staples Center. "We're going to have days when we can't throw it into the Big Fella. That's just the way it is."
Even while limited by foul trouble, O'Neal had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting.
"It's no fun playing against Shaq," Hamblen said. "He's one of those guys that makes guys better because of his presence in the post."
The Lakers are not begrudging O'Neal his success.
"I'm just very happy for him," said Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who traded O'Neal in July for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and what should turn into a 2006 first-round draft pick. "I'd like to see him get a couple more rings. But that's the whole idea, you have to trade them when they have full potential."
While the temperature on Kobe-Shaq has cooled -- amid word the two actually embraced in a private hallway at the All-Star Game -- Bryant clearly will enter with more at stake than matching the 42 points he scored in the first meeting.
"Anybody who sits back and says the Lakers are going to be awful for the rest of my career, for the rest of all eternity, that's ridiculous," Bryant said. "People thinking we're not going to bounce back and be a contender, they're wrong."
Suns burned after Spurs' lineup shuffle
Needless to say, the Suns were hardly thrilled that San Antonio held out Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili from Wednesday's game in Phoenix a night after the two were fit enough to face New Jersey.
Despite a 107-101 victory, the gamesmanship did not sit well with many at America West Arena, including Suns owner Robert Sarver, who joined the crowd in a belittling chorus of, "Varsity! Varsity! Varsity!" after earlier flapping his arms and shouting "Chicken!"
"I wanted them to play at full strength, to be honest with you," Suns center Amare Stoudemire said after scoring a game-high 44 points.
To know Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is to know that leaving the Suns with a sense of postseason doubt was more significant than risking a loss amid Duncan's recovery from last Sunday's twisted ankle.
"This last sprain really bothers me because we're so close to playoff time," Popovich said. "I don't think back-to-back games make sense."
Of course, Popovich could have held out Duncan a night earlier against New Jersey.
As it was, San Antonio already had clinched the three-game season series, which would be the first playoff tiebreaker. In addition, it was the first time the teams had met since Phoenix bolstered its bench with Jim Jackson and Walter McCarty, robbing the Suns of the opportunity to test possible playoff matchups.
"We wanted their big guns out there," Suns forward Shawn Marion said.
In the lane
MINOR DOWNGRADE: No sooner did Orlando lose Doug Christie to the injured list than Magic General Manager John Weisbrod expressed a preference to sign "a domestic player who's playing in Europe." Factor in that the Knicks' two most recent additions came from the Continental Basketball Association, and it says all that needs to be said about what the league truly thinks of its own minor-league NBDL as a talent resource. In all, there have been seven players called up this season from the NBA-operated NBDL, with none of consequence: Cory Alexander, Matt Carroll, Obinna Ekezie, Brandin Knight, Kirk Penney, Smush Parker and James Thomas. The independent CBA has provided 12 NBA call-ups this season, with a few actually having an impact: Maurice Baker, Lonny Baxter, Jackie Butler, Kaniel Dickens, Corsley Edwards, Donnell Harvey, Jermaine Jackson, Britton Johnsen, Randy Livingston, Darrick Martin, Billy Thomas and John Thomas.
NO LONGER A MISSING PERSON: Wesley Person might have struggled for minutes with the Heat, but in Denver he and Warriors castoff Eduardo Najera are revitalizing the Nuggets' bench. Person scored 10 points in his second game with the Nuggets and 18 in his third. Person's lone double-figure game in his four months with the Heat was 10 points Dec. 3 in Chicago. "After not having the opportunity to play a big role in Miami, coming in and having a role makes me want to come to the gym and compete," the veteran small forward said.
STILL ROLLING: To follow up a note from last Sunday, the American Basketball Association team coached by ex-Heat center Ike Austin improved to 27-1 last week, with playoff victories over Tijuana and Long Beach, which lacked forward Dennis Rodman but did have music impresario Master P on the court. Austin's Utah Snowbears next host the minor-league ABA's Final Four, which opens Monday in Salt Lake City.
SAY WHAT? Bucks coach Terry Porter was amused that ESPN analyst Tim Legler called his team the NBA's worst defensively. "That's coming from a defensive specialist himself," Porter said of the former journeyman guard. "I don't worry about comments made by somebody who never really played defense." ... There's no doubt R&B vocalist Usher has created a buzz in Cleveland with his part-ownership of the Cavaliers. But going on the public-address system in the second quarter and guaranteeing a victory over the Magic hardly ushered in good will. "I'm going to burn all his CDs when I get home," Magic forward Dwight Howard said after his team's 111-92 loss.
COMMUTER TALES: So how did Nuggets coach George Karl commute to see his son Coby play for Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Reno? On a plane chartered by Bucks owner Herb Kohl, who owed Karl flight time from his coaching contract in Milwaukee. ... No sooner did the Bulls' plane touch down Tuesday in Portland than Mount St. Helens erupted 55 miles to the north. "I looked over and I was like, `We just flew over that?'" guard Eric Piatkowski said. "I thought it was a thunderhead cloud. We were all standing on the runway staring at it in disbelief."
JUST LOSE, BABY: No one enjoyed the Cavaliers' recent six-game losing streak more than the Bobcats. In order to complete the recent trade for Boston's Jiri Welsch, Cleveland had to remove the lottery protection from the first-round pick it owes Charlotte this June. The upshot could be a second lottery pick for the 'Cats. ... It turns out Boston's Antoine Walker did pay a fee to reclaim his No. 8 from Al Jefferson. The rookie forward's net gain for the downgrade to No. 7 was a $10,000 watch. ... Matt Bonner's star has risen to the point where the Raptors say they are prepared to match any outside offer for the impending free agent. ... Tim Grgurich, considered among the finest teaching assistant coaches, has left the Blazers in the wake of Maurice Cheeks' dismissal and could be headed for a reunion in Denver with Karl.
The Suns could become only the second NBA team and first since the '57-58 Celtics to have five scorers average 16 or more points while appearing in more than two-thirds of their team's games:
'04-05 Suns, '57-58 Celtics
Player Pts., Player Pts.
Amare Stoudemire 26.4, Bill Sharman 23.4
Shawn Marion 19.2, Bob Cousy 18.0
Joe Johnson 16.4, Tom Heinsohn 17.8
Steve Nash 16.0, Bill Russell 16.6
Quentin Richardson 15.7, Frank Ramsey 16.5
Having blown out the last of his sneakers during a recent road trip, Pistons center Ben Wallace borrowed a pair from teammate Ronald Dupree. Trouble was Dupree's had No. 21 stenciled on the back, while Wallace is No. 3. No trouble. Wallace simply drew in a plus sign between the two digits. One plus two equals three, reasoned Wallace.
By the numbers
0-9: Reggie Miller's final career regular-season record against the Lakers at Staples Center.
9: Number of times in 22 meetings San Antonio has reached 100 points against a Jeff Van Gundy-coached team (including five times in the 1999 Finals, when the current Rockets coach was guiding the Knicks).
24-4: Mike Fratello's career coaching record against the Clippers (12-2 while with Atlanta, 9-1 with Cleveland and 3-1 with Memphis this season).
$500,000: Bonus Nuggets center Marcus Camby stands to lose if he misses three more games, having already missed 10.
17: Starters employed by the Pacers, who have fielded 24 different starting lineups this season.
They said it
"You can't get mad at the games now; you can only get mad at the effort." -- Blazers forward Darius Miles, on Portland's decision to devote the balance of its season to the development of its younger players.
"I'm kind of used to one person dribbling around with the ball all the time. It just feels really good to be here and get back to playing basketball and getting easy baskets." -- Forward Kenny Thomas, on going from Allen Iverson's 76ers to the pass-happy Kings.
"There are a lot of reasons, which I don't have time to go into detail." -- Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, when asked why he continues to start Rafael Araujo at center, despite the rookie averaging 3.5 points and 3.4 rebounds.
"I'm a season-ticket holder who gets to come check out the scene, travel, sit in the meetings." -- Nuggets center Mark Pope, on his life of a seldom-used NBA player.
"I think they give out a list of cliches to say back to the coaches." -- Nuggets coach George Karl, on his attempts to interact with today's younger referees.
"Shoot, he's probably been our best post defender right now, and it's nice." -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on offense-oriented forward Antoine Walker.
The new-millennium business plan for the NBA is on display in Chicago.
Some have taken to calling them the Baby Bulls, but the throwback term "Brat Pack" is just as appropriate.
They are the Chicago Bulls, a young team defying the old axiom that says you can't win in this league with youth.
But look at them.
They take their cue from baby-faced Kirk Hinrich, the Iowa farm boy who clipped his dark locks to curtail the Harry Potter comparisons. He is at the heart of this basketball revolution, and yet, none of it seems to faze him, as if he'd been born to the role.
And look at Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler sitting on the bench before games, giggling like teenaged schoolboys.
With an average age of 24.75 years, the Bulls are the league's youngest team. Six players are 22 or younger.
Listen to Chandler when he says: "It's scary to think where we'll be if we can keep everybody together for two or three years. I know in the NBA that's hard to do, but look where we started and look how far we've gone in just this short time."
They were 0-9 a few months ago and it felt as if the world were collapsing. There was talk of trades, firings and Philadelphia's 32-year-old record for fewest wins in a season (nine).
But a curious thing happened — the Bulls began winning. They staged a remarkable resurrection and won 22 of their next 32 games.
Chicago is sixth in the Eastern Conference and poised to return to the postseason for the first time since Michael Jordan left after the 1997-98 season.
The Bulls are winning because they survived Scott Skiles' tough-love coaching and bought into his belief in defense. At one point this season, they held 26 consecutive opponents to less than 100 points.
They're winning with Hinrich, who leads the team in scoring (15.6), assists (6.6), minutes (37.3) and steals (1.63).
They're winning because rookie reserve Ben Gordon is closing out games, Chandler is committing to defense and Curry lost the baby fat around his waist.
"I just got more committed," said Curry, who trimmed 15 to 20 pounds from his 6-foot-11, 285-pound frame. "Being in the league a few years now, you start to learn what you can and cannot do.
"The way the NBA is now with the draft and everything, it might take a few years for guys to really come into their own. Not everybody can be LeBron (James)."
This is what the big spenders in Dallas and New York will never understand.
It's why the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State are stuck in neutral and why the Washington Wizards remain committed to former No.1 overall pick Kwame Brown when others say he's a bust.
The new-millennium business plan says you build teams through the draft, much like San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and the Sonics have done.
It says you collect talent. Get 'em young and raw. Cultivate and wait. Endure the criticisms and along the way you may have to sacrifice a coach or two.
But stick to the plan and never waiver.
Cultivate and wait.
In the past eight years, San Antonio has drafted Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Beno Udrih.
Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker currently lead Boston, but the Celtics have tied their long-term fate to rookies Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Tony Allen.
And the Sonics steadfastly resisted the temptation to dispatch Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic over the past few years. Their resolve spawned an All-Star, a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate and a surprising 41-19 record.
"I love what (Bulls general manager) John Paxson has done with that Chicago team," Sonics GM Rick Sund said. "My thought has always been you build through the draft, and when you feel you're close (to winning a championship), then you look to add here and there through free agency and trades."
Paxson purposely selected winners.
Gordon won an NCAA championship at Connecticut, as did Chris Duhon, who played at Duke. Luol Deng starred for the Blue Devils and Andres Nocioni won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina.
"None of us were ever used to losing," said Hinrich, who enjoyed a 30-8 record at Kansas in 2002-03 before losing 59 games last season in Chicago. "Last year was really tough on me, and not just me, but all of us."
The past six seasons, the Bulls compiled a horrible 119-341 record.
The franchise that won six world championships with Jordan became a laughingstock during 13-, 17- and 15-win seasons.
The Bulls traded away future All-Stars such as Elton Brand and Ron Artest, while committing to teenagers Curry and Chandler. At the time it didn't make much sense. But four years later, Curry and Chandler are realizing their potential, and Paxson said he plans to retain them when they become restricted free agents after the season.
"When you're losing, the bandwagon gets empty," Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "But when you start winning, you see how quickly people want to jump back on. Because people are always jumping on and off the bandwagon, you should keep the bandwagon closed just to your team. It's easy now for some fans to say, 'See, I knew they were going to be good.'
"But it took guts by John and Scott to stay the course. Those guys stuck to their guns, did it their way, and it has proven to be the right way. The Bulls are not just a formidable team for these two months. They're going to be a formidable team for a long, long time."