For the Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller, there was a reason to brood nearly two months ago when the All-Star rosters were being named. As one of the top shooting guards in the Eastern Conference, Miller was looking forward to making the second All-Star appearance of his seven-year career.
Instead, Indiana's leading scorer was snubbed. With the Pacers looking to make their fifth straight playoff appearance, Miller had to cast his hard feelings aside. But last week the 6-foot-7, 185-pound veteran couldn't hold back his happiness after being named a member of Dream Team II, which will play in the world championship in August in Toronto.
As expected, Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal also was named as the U.S. Basketball Committee filled out the 12-man roster. Miller wasn't considered a lock, which made his selection more special. "I'm very excited," Miller said during a teleconference last week. "Any time you get picked among the league's elite, you have to be excited."
With Detlef Schrempf (traded to the Seattle SuperSonics) and Chuck Person (traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves) gone, Miller had to assume the leadership with the Pacers in their first year under coach Larry Brown. Miller is 15th in the league in scoring (20.1 points per game). His scoring average is slightly down from last year (21.2) and is at its lowest since his second season, but that's more an indication of how Miller's role has changed.
"I'm not trying to score 25 a game like previous years," said Miller, who had a season-high 38 points in Saturday's win over Orlando. "I need to do whatever it takes to help this team win.
"More demands have been placed on my shoulders with Detlef and Chuck gone," Miller added. "More of the offensive and defensive load has been thrown my way."
With a single game separating the Pacers, New Jersey Nets and the Miami Heat as they battle for playoff spots six through eight, Miller said he doesn't really care who his team plays in the playoffs -- even the defensive-minded New York Knicks. Last year Indiana extended New York to five games in a first-round series.
"Personally I like going against the Knicks," Miller said. "They're playing the best ball that they've had in years, but you always have a shooter's chance against the Knicks. If we have to play New York, we have to go after it."
When Magic Johnson took over as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers as a favor to owner Jerry Buss, his intentions were to finish out the last 16 games of the season. But now that he's gotten a taste of coaching, it might be hard to pull him away.
At the time Johnson coached his first game, the Lakers were 6 1/2 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With Sunday's win over the Central Division-leading Atlanta Hawks, the Lakers have cut that margin to 3 1/2 games in just one week under Johnson.
Under Johnson the Lakers are 4-1, with back-to-back wins over the Hawks and the Houston Rockets. And now, going into tomorrow's game against the Sacramento Kings, Johnson has visions of Los Angeles extending its current record of 17 postseason appearances.
"I told them we were going to be there," Johnson told reporters after Sunday's win. "It's nice to see that they are believing now."
And that has Johnson believing that coaching might be in his future.
"I was thinking 16, can't hurry up and get out," Johnson said. "Now you think I might not want it to end. You become attached to these guys because what happens is, they've won my trust and I've won theirs."
In line for record?
Denver's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who has made 43 in a row, is shooting 96.0 percent from the free-throw line this season, just ahead of former Houston guard Calvin Murphy's NBA-record 95.8 in 1980-81.
Jazz is off-key
There wasn't a happier player in the NBA than Karl Malone after Utah traded for guard Jeff Hornacek just before the trading deadline.
A 10-game winning streak soon followed, and Malone was saying his team has a legitimate shot of competing for a title.
The Jazz has cooled off considerably since then, losing seven of its past 10 games. Once in competition for the Midwest Division title, the Jazz now is seven games behind the division-leading San Antonio Spurs.
Malone was on top of his game when the Jazz was winning, averaging 26.2 points during the winning streak. During the recent slide his scoring dropped nearly two points, and his shooting percentage fell from 52.1 percent to 43.5 percent.
"I expect a lot out of myself," Malone told reporters in Salt Lake City. "When I know I'm not playing up to my capabilities, when I don't get the job done, I'm not going to put the blame on anyone but myself.
"I guarantee we'll get this worked out before the playoffs and we'll make a run," he added.
Opponent: Chicago Bulls
Site: Chicago Stadium
Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: This will be the Bullets' final game at Chicago Stadium, where they have lost 11 straight and haven't had a victory since April 5, 1988. Chicago has a 14-game winning streak over XTC Washington, including three this season. The Bulls, two and one-half games behind the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference, are led in scoring by F Scottie Pippen (21.7 ppg) and F Horace Grant (15.1). Pippen is also averaging 8.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists. The Bullets are looking for their third straight win, coming off back-to-back victories over Boston and Milwaukee. It was the first time the Bullets have won back to back since January, which also marks the last (and only) time this season Washington has won three straight. F Don MacLean (18.7) and G Rex Chapman (18.3) lead the Bullets. F Tom Gugliotta (sprained ankle) is day-to-day.