AROUND THE RIM
As the first two picks of the 1992 draft, Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning (left) were bitter rivals. "Now that we're on the same team, it's totally different," says Mourning, who joined the Heat last week. One thing that might not change is Miami's rotation: Though Mourning's doctor is comfortable with him playing 20 minutes a game, coach Stan Van Gundy plans to continue giving the majority of Shaq's backup minutes to Michael Doleac because he doesn't want to break up a winning combination.... After shooting 36.0% for the Kings last year, 6'7" free-agent-to-be Gerald Wallace has learned to put his athleticism to good use for the expansion Bobcats, filling out the box score while steadily improving his accuracy (52.7% over his last eight games at week's end). During the preseason Wallace reportedly turned down a long-term offer from Charlotte.... Give the Nuggets the edge for the final Western playoff spot. With 14 home dates among its final 23 games, Denver has a more favorable schedule than the Lakers' (10 of 25 at home) or the Timberwolves' (10 of 23).
WHO IS ... FRANCISCO ELSON?
The Nuggets' 7-foot backup center didn't play basketball in his native Holland until he was 17 because of his mother's fear that he would suffer the same fate as his older brother Patrick, who died of an apparent heart attack while playing for his local Rotterdam club at 21. Francisco eventually earned his mother's blessing, and after two years at Kilgore (Texas) College, two at Cal and four playing professionally in Spain, he joined the Nuggets as a 27-year-old rookie last year. The 235-pound Elson was averaging 3.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.7 minutes through Sunday, outracing most centers down the floor and applying the athletic skills he honed as a karate brown belt. He wears Patrick's number 56 with pride, saying, "I have continued his dream."
3. A three-step recovery plan for Blazers owner Paul Allen: 1) Spend one night counting all the empty seats that encircle your lousy basketball team; 2) spend the next day writing down all the lousy advice you've received from your Seattle-based management group; 3) make major changes, or sell the team.
2. The trouble with the Magic's plan to recast Steve Francis as a shooting guard is that he relies on the dribble. Francis has many strengths; the catch-and-shoot off the screen isn't among them.
1. It is nice to report that fewer and fewer people pay attention to Allen Iverson's tattoos anymore. All of a sudden he has grown up to become his generation's charismatic version of Larry Bird.
News and Jack McCallum's analysis, every week atSI.com/nba.
LUIS M. ALVAREZ/AP (MOURNING)
ICON SMI (ELSON)