- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Jon Siegel of The Washington Times ranks this week's most talked-about stories:
Knee and toe pain kept Shaq out of the Lakers' loss to the Knicks on Sunday that dropped L.A. to 26-25.
Allan Houston took advantage of the Shaq-less Lakers and scored an NBA season-high 53 points in the Knicks' 117-110 win at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant staged a masterful run in which he scored at least 35 points in nine straight games, peaking in Denver with a then-NBA-best 51 points in 31 minutes.
San Antonio set a league record by winning the final eight games in its nine-game trip, taking games in Indiana, Orlando, Miami, Golden State, Denver, Portland, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Sacramento.
Latrell Sprewell of the Knicks, Keith Van Horn of the Sixers, Gary Payton of the Sonics and Austin Croshere of the Pacers are on the block as the trade deadline approaches and teams look to add a piece for a playoff run or dump a big contract.
His Airness got grounded on his birthday by the blizzard that dumped about 2 feet of snow on the Washington area.
Kobe Bryant won the battle of superstars, but the towering force from the Virgin Islands won the game. Tim Duncan had 28 points and 20 rebounds in the Spurs' 103-95 win at the Staples Center that wasted a 44-point effort by Bryant.
The first players chosen for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team were Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and Tracy McGrady. The committee had hoped to announce Kobe Bryant but couldn't come to an agreement. The Lakers' scoring machine could be added later.
Orlando's Shawn Kemp missed two games after he was suspended last Tuesday for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy for the third time. The six-time NBA All-Star was reinstated Friday.
At halftime of Philadelphia's Valentine's Day game, 76 couples either were married or renewed their vows at center court.

Kobe Bryant's 51 points were the most scored in an NBA game this season before Allan Houston put up 53 against the Lakers. Bryant is on a nine-game streak in which he has scored at least 35 points, including reaching 40 the last five games. Here's a look at how the Lakers' shooting star has been fillin' it up:
Jan. 29Suns15-290-110-1140
Jan. 31 Kings14-293-67-838
Feb. 1Jazz12-252-316-1842
Feb. 4Pacers12-311-510-1035
Feb. 6Knicks17-274-48-1146
Feb. 11Nuggets12-201-317-2142
Feb. 12Nuggets15-283-818-2051
Feb. 14Spurs19-412-34-644
Feb. 16Knicks14-313-59-1040

"I'm doing bad; I'm hurting. I can't play like this. I'm going to have to get back on the medicine. I just hope it don't mess me up on the inside."
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal on the soreness in his left knee and big toe.

"We had him. They won't admit it, but it was done. They got nervous because of public opinion when it came out."
76ers coach Larry Brown on a nixed trade several years ago that would have brought Tracy McGrady from Toronto to the 76ers for then-Philadelphia and current Washington guard Larry Hughes.

"It was a game of runs. We made ours, and the referees made theirs."
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after his team's 100-98 loss in Minnesota.

"About three trips to Saks Fifth Avenue, so that's enough."
Heat coach Pat Riley, when asked how fines for criticizing officials were taking a toll on his wife and children. Riley was fined $20,000 last week and $50,000 in December.

Boston is making a move on the Nets in the Eastern Division. Paul Pierce scored 35 and Antoine Walker provided 26 as the Celtics won their fourth straight Saturday at the L.A. Clippers. The streak came immediately after a season-high four-game skid. "We're peaking at the right time," Walker said. "We stumbled a little bit before the All-Star break and lost four in a row, but then we were able to get one right before the break [against Seattle]. We've just got to take care of our own business, and the only way you can do that is with a winning streak." The 30-23 Celtics, who have the Eastern Conference's fourth-best record, won the first three games of a road trip before losing in Phoenix on Sunday.

Allan Houston may have kept Latrell Sprewell in New York. Houston's 53 points in a win at the Lakers on Sunday might spark hope that the Knicks can make the playoffs and give management reason to keep Sprewell and his fat contract for a playoff run. New York is closing in on the Wizards for the eighth playoff spot. Its current six-game road trip was to be a showcase for teams interested in Sprewell, but winning the first two games has management re-thinking that strategy. Center Kurt Thomas also is believed to be on the trading block, and the Mavericks are reportedly offering guard Nick Van Exel. GM Scott Layden figures to be busy before Thursday's trade deadline.

Philadelphia made a powerful statement on Sunday in its 90-83 win over New Jersey. Allen Iverson had 32 points and Derrick Coleman had 16 rebounds as the Sixers handed the Nets only their third home loss in 26 games and the first loss to an Eastern Conference foe. The erratic and talented Sixers (28-24) are riding a three-game winning streak that should be extended, considering that their next four games are against lightweights Chicago, Cleveland (twice) and Memphis. Keith Van Horn continues to be trade bait.

Shaquille O'Neal managed just five rebounds in 40 minutes in Friday's loss to San Antonio and didn't play because of a sore knee Sunday in a loss to New York. All the talk that the three-time NBA champions were back has been tempered by Shaq's troubles and two consecutive home defeats. O'Neal is back on painkillers for his knee and a surgically repaired big toe. He missed the first 12 games of the season after the surgery, and the Lakers started the season 3-9. Kobe Bryant has been sensational recently, but L.A. hasn't won without a healthy Shaq. Kobe had 44 and 40 points respectively in the last two losses. The Lakers are chasing Houston for the final playoff spot and play host to the Rockets tonight.

Kobe might get the hype, but the flashless Tim Duncan quietly is having another MVP-caliber season. The 7-foot center has been dominant, and the Spurs haven't flinched while David Robinson sat out with back troubles. San Antonio has the league's second-best record behind Dallas at 36-16. The Spurs are riding a record eight-game winning streak, all on the road. During the stretch, Duncan averaged 25.6 points and 16 rebounds. He had 28 points and 20 rebounds at the Lakers after totaling 36 points and 15 rebounds against Portland. The 2001-02 league MVP had 25 rebounds an NBA season-high at the beginning of the streak in Miami. The Spurs have a nice, evolving supporting cast around Duncan, led by point guard Tony Parker (15.5 points a game). A Texas-sized showdown occurs Thursday when San Antonio visits Dallas.

Houston has lost four of five and nine of its last 13 heading into tonight's game against the Lakers. Steve Francis, Yao Ming and Co. are clinging to the West's final playoff spot, but are now working their way toward lottery status. They recently lost to lowly Eastern Conference teams Chicago and Cleveland. Yao has been a bright spot, but is the rookie about to hit the wall? Francis (23.2 point average), despite the "Stevie Franchise" nickname, can't do it alone. The Rockets need some inside help to complement Yao or Houston will be left behind in this unforgiving conference.

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