- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

LAS VEGAS — Hours earlier, Gilbert Arenas — despite a recent long-range shooting slump — actually liked his chances in the NBA All-Star Saturday’s 3-Point Shootout.

“My last couple games, I’m 1-for-17 so I’m feeling comfortable,” he laughed. “If my arm warms up, it’s on.”

Washington Wizards fans can only hope that Arenas’ second-place performance last night at Thomas & Mack Center — the site of tonight’s All-Star Game — is a sign he’s back in rhythm. Arenas finished second to Miami’s Jason Kapono, who fell just short of an event record in the win.

Entering the weekend, Arenas had shot a dismal 7-for-43 from 3-point range in the Wizards’ last five games.

In the first round, Arenas bested the other five shooters by hitting 18 of his 25 shots to score 23 points.

In the final round, Kapono scored 24 points, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki nine points and Arenas, shooting last, scored 17 points. On the final rack of five shots, Arenas, knowing a comeback wasn’t possible, shot one-handed, making two shots.

In the night’s other events, Boston Celtics swingman Gerald Green capped the evening with an acrobatic leap over a table to win the dunk contest.

Green, 20, performed his two most memorable dunks in the first round before that final leap over a table bearing the All-Star Game logo for a windmill jam.

There also was an entertaining sideshow: NBA star-turned-broadcaster Charles Barkley beat 67-year-old NBA referee Dick Bavetta in a footrace for charity.

Stern punishment

NBA commissioner David Stern said last night that it was an easy decision to eliminate former player Tim Hardaway from participating in All-Star Weekend activities following his anti-gay rant on a Miami radio station.

Asked about John Amaechi, the former NBA player who revealed in a new book that he is gay, Hardaway said he wouldn’t want a gay player on his team and added, “I hate gay people.”

Said Stern: “We just thought, given what we heard, the hateful speech, that we thought there was only one thing to do and that was to disassociate ourselves from it as quickly as we possibly could, and to send the message that that’s not us.”

The major topic of Stern’s 45-minute press conference was Las Vegas’ prospect of getting an NBA team and how the city’s sports books would have to change their ways in order to procure a franchise.

Stern wants Las Vegas to take all NBA games off the board if they are to get a team; the city’s sports books counter that such action would take away around 15 percent of their business but they would not allow gambling on games involving a Las Vegas NBA team.

The All-Star Game was not on the board in town this weekend and the Palms hotel, owned by Sacramento Kings co-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof, does not allow wagering on NBA games.

“Well, it’s a great city and it’s a great tourism destination,” Stern said. “I don’t know if it’s a natural fit because those are the kinds of analyses that we do. I know there’s one issue we have about betting on basketball games.”

Stern has urged Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman to meet with Clark County commissioner Rory Reid to compile a proposal to give to the league in March.

“If the owners were to be satisfied with respect to the disposition of the basketball betting issue, then there’s analysis to be done about whether the city can support an NBA team,” Stern said.

In other league-related issues, Stern said he would speak with Charles Barkley and TNT about Barkley’s penchant for publicizing his massive gambling losses.

“What [the talk] might go along the lines of is that even though we have a perfectly legal pursuit, maybe there comes a time when we should cap the conversation about his losses,” Stern said.

Shaq breaks it down

During an otherwise uneventful practice yesterday at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal loosened things up by starting and winning a break-dancing contest. Cleveland’s LeBron James and Orlando’s Dwight Howard also participated.

“This is the only place where you’ll see a 7-foot-1 man dancing and swimming on the floor,” Arenas said. “I can dance against the best of them, but I’m not going to try and break dance against Shaq.”

Butler beaming

One player who had a smile on his face throughout yesterday’s practice and interview session was Wizards forward Caron Butler, who will play in his first All-Star Game tonight.

“All the hard work is paying off but I never expected this,” Butler said. “I’m the definition of happy right now.”

Butler credited current teammate Arenas and former teammates Dwyane Wade (Miami) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers) for motivating him.

“Being around those guys, I watched how they would prepare for games and they’re all gym rats,” he said. “That’s why they’ve prided their games on and I’ve tried to follow them.”

Pops stars

Former George Washington standout Pops Mensah-Bonsu scored a game-high 30 points yesterday afternoon to lead the NBA Development League East All-Stars to a 114-100 victory.

Mensah-Bonsu hit 11 of 13 shots from the field and eight of 12 free throws.

Mensah-Bonsu made the Dallas Mavericks roster out of training camp but appeared in only one game before being sent down to the Fort Worth Flyers. In 20 games with the Flyers, he averaged 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds.

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