- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Maybe when NBA coaches vote on the reserves for next month’s All-Star Game in Denver, someone other than Eddie Jordan will remember the 40 points Gilbert Arenas deposited on Kevin Garnett and his disgruntled bunch of teammates in Minnesota.

Or perhaps the other coaches will recall the triple-double backcourt mate Larry Hughes — the league leader in steals — slapped Toronto with on its homecourt over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Or perhaps they will notice the sustained excellence of Antawn Jamison, the player credited most with the team’s turnaround this season. He has registered a team-high 14 double-doubles, has led the 19-13 Wizards in scoring 12 times and in rebounding 19 times and is averaging 20.7 points and 8.8 rebounds.

But at the moment all three players are on the outside looking in. None of them has played in the game before, and despite the fact each is putting up All-Star caliber statistics — what forward is averaging better numbers than Jamison in the guard-heavy East? — the Big Three will make the team only if the coaches vote them there.

Arenas (23.1 points a game), Hughes (21.0) and Jamison constitute the highest scoring trio in the league, the nucleus of a team off to its best start since the 1984-85 Bullets began the season with an identical record. The Wizards, a lottery team that won just 25 games in 2003-04, enter tonight’s game with Portland at MCI Center with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Making the NBA All-Star Game is part popularity contest — fans worldwide vote to determine the starters — and part coaches’ impressions. Balloting concludes Jan.23, and the All-Star starters, who likely will include suspect picks Vince Carter and Grant Hill, will be announced Feb.3. Shortly thereafter, the reserves selected by the coaches will be announced.

In the most recent tally of fans’ votes, Jamison was fifth among Eastern Conference forwards, while Arenas and Hughes were not among the top 10 guards.

While all three acknowledged yesterday playing in the game would be nice, that goal is clearly a distant second to making the playoffs.

“I’m at the point where it’s really about playing in the playoffs and having the opportunity to win a championship,” said Jamison, 28, who got his first taste of the playoffs last year as a reserve in Dallas. “That’s what the game should be about. It took a while for it to register for me, but it’s not about being recognized as an individual. It’s about getting into the playoffs and getting deep into the playoffs.”

Last year, anytime Arenas mentioned the playoffs during interview sessions, snickers and smirks were soon to follow. Not anymore.

“If [an All-Star selection] happens it happens. If it doesn’t it doesn’t,” said Arenas, who just turned 23. “Of course you want the name and the label. But if I don’t make it, I won’t mind just taking that time to get some rest for the second half of the season.

“The way we look at it is if we make the All-Star Game and don’t win any games in the second half of the season, then we’ve had a bad season, right? But if we don’t make it and then go deep in the playoffs, everybody is going to say that we should have made it. I like the second choice.”

On New Year’s Eve, Boston coach Doc Rivers endorsed Arenas and Hughes as “maybe the best backcourt in the NBA,” comparing them to Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas. In actuality, however, the two may be competing against each other to make the team.

Still, Hughes said the NBA does the All-Star selection the right way.

“Fans should have that opportunity,” Hughes said. “They pay to watch, and they pay for DirecTV to get the games so they can see the people they like to see, so it is a popularity contest.

“But going to the postseason and playing well enough to make it is where the respect comes from. I play this game for respect.”

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