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Fast Break


Ron Artest has been hogging the spotlight for the Pacers, who had
the NBA's second best record (28-11) at week's end, but give some
kudos to point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who returned to the starting
lineup on Dec. 30 and led Indiana to a seven-game winning streak
that ended last Saturday in San Antonio. Tinsley has picked up
the tempo on offense and created easier shots for teammates....
Court dates for Kobe Bryant's trial in Colorado may force him to
miss the Lakers' Feb. 2 game at Indiana, the March 2 game at
Atlanta and the March 24 game in L.A. against Sacramento. "Just
as long as it's not a playoff game," says coach Phil Jackson....
While still bothered by his right big toe despite surgery to
remove bone spurs in September 2002, Shaquille O'Neal is working
with specialist Alex McKechnie to adjust his gait in hopes of
alleviating his current calf strain and avoiding a recurrence of
the knee problems that hampered O'Neal during the playoffs last
year.... Phoenix owner Jerry Colangelo denies that the Suns are
on the block, despite his cap-clearing trade of Stephon Marbury
and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks. The Suns lost $7 million last
year, but Colangelo says the trade will produce a $13 million
savings that will almost get the team back in the black this
year. "Starting next season we will be profitable again," says
Colangelo, "which takes the pressure off." ... From journeyman
Anthony Goldwire, who joined his fifth NBA team when he signed
with Minnesota on Jan. 9: "I just take things one 10-day at a


On the Detroit Pistons, who were 24-13 at week's end under new
coach Larry Brown, three games behind the Indiana Pacers, who are
led by Detroit's former coach, Rick Carlisle:

"I'm not convinced the Pistons' record would be any different if
Carlisle were still coaching. They might be a little more
disciplined offensively, but the defense would be just as good
either way. The fundamental problem is that they don't have a
true scorer in the block other than Elden Campbell, who Larry
can't stomach because he's such a lazy defender, and Corliss
Williamson. I'm convinced that Number 2 draft pick Darko Milicic
will eventually become that inside scorer, because he has good
hands and instincts and he's very quick getting the ball from the
floor to the rim, but right now he's an 18-year-old who has no
understanding of how hard you have to play in this league. Of
course there's been some grumbling in Detroit--that goes with the
up-and-down nature of a perimeter-based team--but in the end the
Pistons are going to contend in the East because they have good
players, a good organization and a good coach, just like last


3. Defense wins titles, so you can dismiss Sacramento and Dallas
as title contenders. The Mavericks rank 25th in defensive field
goal percentage, and the Kings--in spite of recent
improvement--are 23rd. No champion has ever ranked worse than
15th (the 1992-93 Bulls) in this category, and every NBA titlist
since then has been in the top 11.

2. Here is what the Trail Blazers should do: Dump all their other
knuckleheads but re-sign Rasheed Wallace and recast him as their
No. 2 player while rebuilding around power forward Zach Randolph.
Wallace has already embraced this role, shifting to small forward
while continuing to guard the Duncans and the Garnetts. Without
Wallace at his side, Randolph would face more double teams and be
exploited defensively.

1. Vin Baker should negotiate a buyout. The Celtics may terminate
Baker's contract with two years (worth $30.4 million) remaining
if he is caught drinking again. A buyout would ensure that Baker
receives most of that money and allow him to focus on his health
without the added pressure of worrying about the contract.