AROUND THE RIM
Though Stephon Marbury has never won a playoff series, Knicks
president Isiah Thomas contends that he has recently become the
NBA's top point guard--and that he will prove to be one of the
best ever. "When I came into the league, everybody said Bob Cousy
was the best point guard, and I wanted to put my name next to
his," Thomas says. "I've told Stephon that he should make that
list read, 'Cousy, Isiah and Stephon.'" ...For the next two
months scouts will keep an eye on Danish small forward Christian
Drejer, who left Florida last month to sign a two-year, $1
million deal with the EuroLeague champion, F.C. Barcelona. Drejer
hopes that his versatility will shine through at Barcelona and
help lift him into the first round of this year's draft--which
wasn't going to happen in Gainesville, where he was disenchanted
with the Gators' selfish play. In his first three Spanish League
games, the 6'9" Drejer averaged 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in
19.3 minutes.... Their 4-5 stretch through Sunday brings up bad
memories for the Timberwolves. Since 2000-01 Minnesota is 24-29
in March and 170-91 in the other months.
On March Madness:
"The college tournament has our playoffs beat in terms of drama,
because it's a 100-yard dash and ours is a marathon. But I get
tired of hearing that the NCAA tournament is pure basketball and
superior to what we do. The level of play is the equivalent of
Double A baseball (it used to be Triple A--before the teenagers
started turning pro). And you've got to be real naive to think
that it's pure. A lot of the best players have their 'advisers'
calling guys like me to see whether their NBA stock is up or down
after each game, and a lot of coaches are using the tournament to
angle for their next job. Also, so many of those coaches spend
entire timeouts berating the officials, and then Dick Vitale
praises them by saying, 'Look at him! He's Mr. Intensity! He
wants his team to win!' And I'm saying, If he really wants his
players to win, then why isn't he coaching them?"
The Celtics have stayed in the playoff chase (seventh in the East
through Sunday) because of their 7-foot, 250-pound high-energy
center. Blount, 28, came by his relentless style the hard way. He
was drafted 55th by the Sonics in 1997 after a misguided decision
to leave Pitt as a sophomore; since then he has been waived twice
and done stints in the CBA, USBL and IBL. Boston got him from
Denver at the trading deadline last year, and he meshed with
defensive-minded coach Jim O'Brien and assistant Dick Harter, who
this season praised him as the league's best post defender.
Blount was averaging 15.3 points and 11.3 rebounds over his last
six games at week's end; he also had 28 points and 21 boards in a
March 1 win over the Magic. He plans to opt out of the last year
on his contract, worth $1.1 million. "A lot of teams need a big
man roaming around," Blount says, "helping the guards and keeping
the ball out of the paint."
3. College grads looking for career opportunities should consider
the NBA. In the past 12 months the 29-team league has had 25 G.M.
and head coaching changes.
2. At the top of Denver G.M. Kiki Vandeweghe's summer shopping
list is a big man who can score in the post. The Nuggets are the
league's foremost fast-break team, but they struggle mightily in
the half-court against the good defensive teams. Through Sunday
the Nuggets were 3-12 against the top seven defensive teams and
33-23 against everyone else.
1. If the Hornets don't make a deep run in the playoffs, count on
G.M. Bob Bass to shake up the franchise before it moves to the
Western Conference next season. The talented nucleus has been
together for four years but has yet to reach a conference
final--and at week's end New Orleans ranked 28th in attendance
(14,244 per game).
COLOR PHOTO: GREG NELSON