Nuggets' Pack emerges as leader of guard pack

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This time a year ago, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was posting numbers worthy of All-Star Game consideration, eventually finishing the season as the team's leading scorer. This season, the fifth-year guard is complaining because he can't get off the bench.

That's because of the emergence of fourth-year guard Robert Pack, who was undrafted when he left Southern Cal in 1991 and couldn't cut it on the 1991-92 Portland Trail Blazers team that made it to the NBA Finals. While Abdul-Rauf sits and pouts with his new reserve role (he missed a practice last week because of his unhappiness), Pack might be gaining All-Star honors this season.

Known primarily for his explosiveness, Pack, at 6 feet 2, is demonstrating diversity in his first season as a starter. He's averaging 15.6 points, a career best. His 9.7 assists rank third in the league, behind John Stockton and Kenny Anderson (Pack averaged 5.3 assists last season). And a guy who hit just seven three-pointers in his career going into this season (14.8 percent), Pack ranks among the league leaders (14 of 29, 48.2 percent).

It's just a continuation from last season's playoffs, when Pack was the emotional spark that helped Denver reach the Western Conference semifinals.

"I went into last off-season wanting to work on my jump shot, because I felt if I got it consistent it would help open up my game more and help the team," Pack said. "I also wanted to work on my decision-making, and the mental aspects of the game. Now I'm able to run the show and get the ball to the right guys at the right time."

Those daily four-hour sessions have paid off for a player who missed practices last season and was considered immature by coach Dan Issel. He's a model citizen now and, out West, only Stockton looks better at the point.

"I'm not surprised," was Pack's response, when asked about being mentioned as a possible All-Star. "That's what I felt I could do if I put the time in.

"I think I definitely needed to earn the respect of my teammates, to let them know I was a leader," Pack added. "I wanted to establish that in camp, and I think I did. I look forward to continuing throughout the year."

Air in error?

Michael Jordan's out of the league, but he's still in the news. On a visit to old Chicago Bulls teammate and current Golden State assistant Rod Higgins, Jordan practiced with the Warriors -- in violation of NBA rules because Jordan is still the property of the Bulls.

That practice preceded the Warriors game against the Indiana Pacers, and Jordan provided Reggie Miller with a little pep talk before the game.

"He said, 'You need to be more aggressive. You're the best two-guard out there. I know you're trying to play within the confines of the team, but when you're more aggressive that makes the other guys more aggressive,' " Miller said of the talk.

"It just pumped me up," Miller added. "That's my man, it meant a lot to me."

Dour-nique

It appears that it didn't take long for unhappiness to surface around Dominique Wilkins, who is in his first season with the Boston Celtics. After a game on Wednesday when he hit six of hTC 17 shots and scored 12 points, 'Nique began to sound off.

"They want me to lead, score, rebound, which is fine," Wilkins said. "But they have to put me in a position to do that. I'm an emotional guy,

but I find myself standing around a lot and just watching. It's no fun like that, and this game is supposed to be fun."

Typical of Wilkins -- always looking out for himself, and never the team.

Around the league

San Antonio's Dennis Rodman has caught a lot of heat for his Nike commercial where he shakes down Santa Claus (Cleveland president Wayne Embry has called the ad racist), but former Detroit coach Chuck Daly recalls a different Rodman around the holidays. "I never saw an NBA player give a gift to the coaching staff until Dennis giving all the coaches their gifts on the bus," Daly said. "And there he was one day in front of my house, knocking on the door with a gift for my family." . . . Bulls coach Phil Jackson attributes part of his team's problems at home (Chicago has lost to New Jersey, Washington and Dallas already) to the scoreboard at the new United Center. "[Fans are] living off that scoreboard now. Before . . . everyone was on their feet cheering for the team. Now there's a show going on [the scoreboard], and they can sit back and watch it." . . . Pacers (and former Bullets) forward John Williams is off the injured list, weighing in at a still-hefty 290 pounds. "I'm not in good shape now and it shows," Williams said.

Quote of the week

Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, about a recent close win over the Sacramento Kings:

"At halftime, Coach [Jerry Sloan] put our name in the same hat with the Clippers. We told him, 'Please, call us somebody else or anything else except that.' "

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