AROUND THE RIM
Hockey fans' apathetic reaction to the NHL lockout has served as a warning to NBA owners and players that they can't afford to let labor negotiations interrupt the 2005--06 season. While there may be a short lockout should talks continue into the summer, influential reps on both sides are vowing to reach a deal in time to save the entire season.... Though the Celtics' lease at the nine-year-old FleetCenter runs through 2011, a league source says that the team has hired Denver-based consultant Tim Romani to look into developing a new arena in the Boston area.... Why had scoring risen to 95.6 points per team at week's end, 2.2 points more than last season? Because refs are calling the game more tightly on the perimeter, resulting in 3.9 more free throws per game.... The 76ers are hoping that Allen Iverson (above) will warm up now that the team has closed the doors to the loading area of the Wachovia Center, which should raise the temperature inside by several degrees. Says the Answer of his once frigid confines, "My hands never thawed out the whole game."
WHO IS ... MAURICE (MO) WILLIAMS?
Taken 43rd in the 2003 draft after leaving Alabama as a sophomore, the 6'1" Williams improved enough in the Jazz's point guard--friendly system to earn a three-year, $5.3 million free-agent contract from the Bucks last summer. "I liked his quickness going coast to coast, his ability to get in the paint, his willingness to take the big shot," says Milwaukee coach Terry Porter.
"He was a guy we could mold." With T.J. Ford out indefinitely after neck surgery, Williams had started all 21 games and ranked 12th in assists (6.7 per game) through Sunday. "At the beginning of the season I was playing not to make a mistake," says Williams, whose left biceps is tattooed with the Planters logo, a nod to his childhood nickname, Peanut. "I'm more comfortable now."
3. Andrei Kirilenko's value has become more obvious in his absence: The Jazz started 8--6, but since he sprained his right knee on Nov. 27, it had gone 2--9 at week's end.
2. A surprise contender for the No. 1 pick in 2005 is North Carolina sixth man Marvin Williams. The 6'9", 230-pound freshman is a versatile scorer who is showcasing an A-plus attitude by coming off the bench without complaint.
1. Isn't it obvious that Kobe Bryant is starving for solid, responsible advice? Instead of following the path of Michael Jordan, Bryant is on his way to becoming the next Isiah Thomas--the most misunderstood star of his generation.
News and Jack McCallum's analysis, every week atSI.com/basketball.
ERIC GAY/AP (IVERSON)
KEVIN REECE/ICON SMI (WILLIAMS)