- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

PHILADELPHIA — Steve Nash appeared to have just rolled out of bed after taking his appointed place on the fifth floor of the downtown Marriott yesterday.

It was 3 in the afternoon.

This was the scrum with the national press before the NBA All-Star Game tomorrow.

That explained the absence of Michael Jordan, otherwise engaged in golf, the casinos in Atlantic City or Juanita, and $10,000 lighter in the pocket as a result.

That's chump change to Jordan and the young multi-millionaires in the ballroom.

Nash, new to this, plus a Canadian, showed up to the inquisition with the requisite patience. He even maintained a straight face around the accidental weeds on top of his head.

This led to at least two observations. Nash should fire his barber. He should invest in a comb.

Talk is cheap on this day, as scattered as Nash's hair, although both sides try as hard as possible to reinvent the session.

Did someone mention pressure at Byron Scott's table?

Scott, the suit in charge of the players from the Eastern Conference, couldn't resist one of the softer tosses aimed in his direction. Predictably, he hit it out of the park.

"I've always looked at pressure as a guy, with four kids, making $30,000 a year," he said. "Now that's pressure. This is fun. This is a game."

Scott, as coach of the conference-leading Nets, is in a position to savor the pause in the regular season more than most sideline maestros. The Nets, with a 32-15 record, already have won six more games than last season. Their post-ABA history goes with the Meadowlands, one as bleak as the other.

Scott is as shocked as the next person that he landed here. To anyone who forecast this before the season, Scott would have suggested a good shrink.

"I would have told you that you were out of your mind," he said. "It's unbelievable. The process has been quicker than anything I anticipated. This is a good overwhelming. You have to enjoy this."

Kobe Bryant made up his mind a long time ago to invite the comparisons to Jordan. He even has mastered some of the old guy's mannerisms. The showcase game is not about Bryant and Jordan unless you insist.

Bryant has been duly impressed by Jordan and the Wizards.

"I don't see much difference in Michael's game from the past," he said. "He was more explosive then. If he has lost anything, he hasn't lost much, maybe a little bit."

Jordan and the Wizards play Bryant and the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the first of two meetings between the teams this season. That is certain to pique the interest of the Zen master, the coach with the magical incense who introduced Cochise to Jordan before Bryant.

"I think Phil [Jackson] will sit back and enjoy this one," Bryant said. "Even though there's a lot of hoopla about individual matchups, I'm in Los Angeles to win championships. What you have to understand is Michael has six championship rings."

That is four more than Bryant and the Lakers, although a third ring is expected to be on the way for them.

That prospect is qualified only by the boo-boo on Shaquille O'Neal's right big toe. O'Neal's hurt is severe enough to warrant a spot on the injured list, and just in time, as far as the Wizards are concerned.

Bryant, who skipped medical school, along with college, knows a hurt big toe when he sees one.

"You can tell he's hurting," Bryant said. "It probably will bother him the rest of the season, and that's what concerns me."

The toe has a better chance of undermining the Lakers than the rest of the NBA. The Spurs, Kings and Mavericks, the likely challengers, lack about 100 pounds against the immovable object.

Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-footer from Dallas with the sweet perimeter skills, seemed to be in a hurry to raise the white flag.

"No one has the strength to go against Shaq," he said. "You can beat the Lakers here and there, but to beat them four times in a playoff series, that's tough."

This is assuming O'Neal's big toe decides to cooperate in the spring.

So that's the Lakers, by a toe.

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