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Inside The NBA

In a gallery of shooting All-Stars, quiet Tim Duncan's aim was

He had turned in another brilliant performance, understated as
usual, but in the waning seconds of Sunday's All-Star Game, even
Tim Duncan couldn't help getting swept up in the All-Star
razzle-dazzle. So, with 1:17 left and his team comfortably in the
lead, the Spurs' center elevated and, with uncommon style,
delivered a one-handed tomahawk dunk over Alonzo Mourning.

It was a stunning display of power and finesse, and for many fans
who jammed into The Arena at Oakland last weekend intent on
watching Vince Carter perform 360-degree tomahawks and Allen
Iverson turn some sucker's ankle with his killer crossover
dribble, Duncan's dunk was a wake-up call. Oh, that's right. Tim
Duncan. I forgot, that guy's good.

Duncan finished with 24 points on 12-of-14 shooting, scoring in
the paint, off the glass, on the run. His four assists, one block
and game-high 14 rebounds were both efficient and forgettable. He
was the silent assassin, while his more flamboyant co-MVP,
Shaquille O'Neal, dominated the highlight reel with 22 noticeable
points, nine boards and three blocks.

"Sometimes you forget Tim's out there, because he [goes about]
his business so quietly," said East forward Grant Hill. "But then
you get a dunk in the face to remind you he's lurking." This
season Duncan has embodied the word consistency, registering
double doubles in all but six of his 49 games. His Spurs are the
defending NBA champs, yet somehow he has been lost amid the
ballyhooed ascension of young stars such as Carter.

Wasn't it only eight months ago that we proclaimed Duncan the
best young basketball player on the planet? Why, then, has he
slipped from our consciousness? Why, when the MVP award is
mentioned, do we rattle off Shaq, 'Zo, Chris Webber and Gary
Payton as candidates, making this 7-foot marvel an afterthought?
"It's because of the way he plays," says fellow West All-Star
Michael Finley. "I've done it myself. We get to the end of a game
against the Spurs, and I'm thinking, We've contained Tim Duncan.
Then I look up and realize he's got 25 points and 12 rebounds."
O'Neal, a longtime Duncan fan, says, "You don't see too many guys
[his size] who can go inside and out. I admire him for that."

Last season Duncan lost a tight league MVP vote to Karl Malone,
and he did not feign indifference to this slight. This season
Duncan is putting up the same kind of numbers as last year, night
after night. Warn your favorite center: Duncan is lurking, and
someone's going to pay.

The Rookie Game

Last Saturday's All-Star rookie game, which pitted this season's
top newcomers against last year's, took a surreal turn in the
first half: Cleveland rookie Andre Miller was roundly booed for
scoring a basket. His crime was that he laid the ball in on a
fast break instead of dunking it. The fans, demanding
entertainment for their dollars, hooted at Miller for daring to
choose solid, no-frills basketball over a stylish grandstanding
move. The crowd continued to voice its displeasure almost every
time he touched the ball.

What could Miller, who scored 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, have
been thinking? Hadn't he seen Sacramento point guard Jason
Williams bobbing, weaving and juking with the ball, shooting
skyscraper three-pointers and rifling behind-the-back no-look
passes to surprised teammates (and, at times, to unsuspecting
fans in the stands)? "This was not a night for fundamentals,"
said Williams, the overwhelming people's choice, after the game.

He has a point. All-Star weekend is about showing up and showing
off. That's how the league has packaged it, which is why on
Saturday in Oakland, Houston rookie Steve Francis was allowed to
lob the ball to himself on a break, then pick it up on the bounce
and dunk it without being whistled for the violation. That's also
why it was O.K. to cheer as Williams pushed the ball up the
floor, wrapped it around his back with his left hand and then
knocked it with his right elbow to a streaking Raef LaFrentz. The
play was spectacular--yet unsuccessful, because the stunned
LaFrentz was fouled on the play. So there was cause to wonder
when Williams declared, "I'll play like this in any game."

He means it. In a Jan. 30 game against the Knicks, as the Kings
trailed by 15 just before the half, Williams had a free layup but
chose to toss a pass off the backboard for Chris Webber to dunk.
Webber missed. Said exasperated Sacramento assistant (and purist)
Pete Carril, "Ridiculous. Wrong play, wrong time."

In Oakland last weekend, G.M.'s groused about the treatment
Miller endured and the adulation Williams received. "I'll take
Andre Miller over Jason Williams any day," snapped one general

The criticism doesn't bother Williams, or so he insists. "I don't
listen to nobody but my coaches and teammates," he says. "I know
some people are going to criticize my game, and some people are
going to love my game."

For his part, Miller was perplexed by the boos. "We've got some
guys [in this league] who are flashy and athletic," he said.
"Then we've got guys who just like to go out and play basketball.
I'm one of those guys."

Miller is not alone. Rookie game MVP Elton Brand had 21 rebounds
and 16 points without taking the ball behind his back, and said
he was happy that in the voting, substance had prevailed over

Kings coach Rick Adelman understands that Sacramento must choose
substance, too, if it wants to advance past the first round of
the playoffs. He may even have to rein in the talented yet
erratic Williams. The point guard, however, doesn't seem to see
it that way. "Rick knows going into the game that I'm going to
have some turnovers," Williams says. "But he understands my game.
If he holds me back, it's going to hurt me and the team. He's let
me know there's a time and a place. I'm aware of that."

Curse of All-Star Weekend

Grant Hill sat back in the East locker room just hours before
the All-Star Game, observing the buzz around Vince Carter. "I
feel sorry for him, in a way," said Hill. "He's going to be

Hill speaks from experience. In 1995, when he was the hot young
star, his first All-Star experience, in Phoenix, was a blur of
appearances, interviews and photo shoots. "Everybody wanted a
piece of me," Hill said. "I was so young, I didn't know how to
say no. I didn't dare say no."

At the end of that weekend, Hill jetted to New York City to
appear on David Letterman and to attend the ESPY Awards show. He
flew back to Detroit on Tuesday morning and played against the
Knicks that night. "At that point I was running on pure
adrenaline," Hill recalled. "I hit my first 11 field goals. It
wasn't until the next game [on Feb. 15] that it really hit me. I
didn't have anything left." Hill said he was impressed by how
Carter handled all the attention heading into Sunday's game, but
he added, "He has no idea. This is only the beginning."

Hill sat back and smiled as Carter, surrounded by reporters,
photographers and NBA officials, tried to sign autographs while
giving an interview, lacing his sneakers and sipping Gatorade.
"Damn," Hill said, "I wish we were playing him this week."

Magic Johnson's Dream Job

Magic Johnson checked in for the All-Star festivities last
weekend lugging a tote bag of titles: movie theater magnate, part
owner of the Lakers, part owner and occasional star of M7, a
Swedish pro basketball team, and restless NBA legend who says he
would consider coaching again if he could have final say over
draft choices and trades.

Johnson's brief coaching career with the Lakers lasted one month
in 1994 and was a disaster. He quit after 16 games, disgusted, he
said, by the attitude of his players. Magic's critics charged
that he was not prepared to be an NBA coach. Last year Johnson's
friend and rival, Indiana coach Larry Bird, asserted that Johnson
would be a fine coach if "he really took it seriously and put all
the other stuff aside. Magic didn't have the focus the first time

"Pat Riley is always telling me the same thing," Johnson said
last week. "I find myself thinking about it. You just want the
guys to want to learn and to play hard. That's what killed me the
first time. People thought I wanted them to be like me. That
wasn't it. I used to tell George Lynch, 'Show up 30 minutes
before practice if you want to shoot that baseline shot, because
right now you can't hit it.' But he never came early. Now he
tells me, 'I wish I had listened to you.'"

Asked if coaching a particular team intrigued him, Johnson
mentioned the Clippers. "Orlando has done a wonderful job of
freeing up cap room for free agents." he says, "But what's going
to make it work is that Orlando is going to have Doc Rivers and
Dr. J come calling [on those free agents]. That makes an
impression on these players. The Clippers could have $14 million
[available] under the cap, but it won't matter because who is
going to come calling for them? I could make it work there if
given a shot."

Are Johnson and the Clippers a realistic fit? Johnson would have
to sell his stake in the Lakers, and Clippers owner Donald
Sterling would have to fire G.M. Elgin Baylor to give Magic the
power he desires. That, say Clippers sources, is unlikely.

Line of the Week

Utah guard Jeff Hornacek combined with Natalie Williams to win
the 2ball competition and then successfully defended his
three-point shooting title by outgunning runner-up Dirk Nowitzki.
Not bad for a 36-year-old guy with a bum left knee who plans to
retire at season's end.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Duncan's sudden tomahawk dunk over Mourning was a crowning blow in the West's 137-126 victory in Oakland.

Around The Rim

All-star Eddie Jones says he couldn't "care less" that he wasn't
selected to play in the 2000 Olympic Games. Jones says that NBA
players resent USA Basketball's selection process, which is
conducted by an eight-person committee headed by Russ Granik,
deputy commissioner of the NBA. "I think it should be left up to
the [Olympic] coaches," he says. "They can assess us better than
people sitting on a board."...

Moments after West All-Stars coach Phil Jackson broke the huddle
that completed last Saturday's practice, his players began
frantically calling for the balls back. Seems Jackson offered
$50 to the first guy who hit a half-court shot. The winner:
Chris Webber....

New Clippers coach Jim Todd has spoken to former Pacers center
LaSalle Thompson about working with Michael Olowokandi, the
Clippers big man, on post moves and footwork. "When the game
starts, Michael drifts into a comfort zone," says Todd. "We have
to find a way to keep him focused."...

Tracy McGrady had his right arm wrapped heavily in ice on
Saturday night after losing to Raptors teammate Vince Carter in
the finals of the slam-dunk competition. McGrady says he was "in
serious pain" after banging his forearm on the rim during one

Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett became the favorite of public
relations directors everywhere after he invited Timberwolves
p.r. man Kent Wipf and his wife, Laura, to fly to the All-Star
festivities on the charter plane he had rented from Bob Dylan.