Back in All-Star form, Hornets' Johnson seeks a suitable berth


During the World Championships in Toronto over the summer, Charlotte Hornets forward Larry Johnson was playing like . . . well, playing like Grandmama. The power and explosiveness that were the trademark of his game were gone and there was belief that the back injury that forced him to miss much of last season was going to permanently limit his career.

Johnson, during those World Championships, shrugged off the criticism and said wait and see. Now it appears he's having the last word.

Although perhaps not as explosive as he was two years ago, Johnson has proved to be just as effective. Going into tonight's game against the Orlando Magic, Johnson is averaging 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and shooting 49.9 percent. He has become the go-to guy of the Hornets, who have won eight straight and are within one game of the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers in the Central Division.

"Without question, Larry's been key for us," said Charlotte coacAllan Bristow. "You can just see his confidence going up. Larry is so important to us. Nobody on this team can score like he can, especially at crunch time."

Johnson is hoping he'll get to show his stuff in Phoenix nexmonth at the All-Star Game. In his only All-Star appearance two years ago, Johnson was benched for the most part by New York Knicks coach Pat Riley.

The latest balloting has Johnson third among Eastern Conference forwards with 286,433 votes, behind Grant Hill (584,927) and Scottie Pippen (401,554). It appears to be a big margin to overcome, but there's no doubt in Johnson's mind that he'll be at the game.

better make the All-Star Game. I better start in the All-Star Game," Johnson said. "I'm 100 percent. My personal goal was to get back to my true form and my true form is an All-Star player."

Roughing it, NBA style

Looking to shake his team out of the doldrums of its recent losing streak, Philadelphia 76ers coach John Lucas didn't scream at his players or bench anyone -- he put the group up in an economy hotel.

it wasn't a Motel 6. But last Tuesday, the night before the Sixers were to play their first home game in three weeks against the Chicago Bulls, Lucas had the team at the Days Inn near Philadelphia Airport.

"We're not winning at home," Lucas said of the move. "So I'm trying something new."

It had to be a shock to the players, many who are making millions and are used to spending time in luxury hotels with all-night room service. Not only did the Sixers have to stay in a hotel not far from their homes, they also had to room with another player -- a first for most of the guys.

"It was the worst experience of my life," said Sixers guard Greg Graham, who would not name his roommate.

Rookie Sharone Wright hasn't been in the league long enough to get spoiled, so the stay wasn't really a problem for him.

"I live alone, anyway, so I was happy to get a roommate," Wright said. "It's nice to have someone to talk to."

Of course, the Sixers -- whose losing streak hit nine games yesterday -- lost to the Bulls.

"I guess they won't have to stay in hotels at home anymore," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said.

Gliding out of Portland?

Clyde Drexler's recent comments about wanting to be traded might be due to his being underpaid. Drexler's $1.57 million salary this season ranks ninth among the Trail Blazers.

"From the way they have treated me and other people in the organization, I don't want to be part of the organization," said Drexler, an eight-time All-Star. "From the standpoint of leaving the city, it will be very difficult. But from the standpoint of being treated fairly, it's an easy decision."

Drexler still is upset about the deal that almost came off during the off-season that would have sent him to Miami for Harold Miner. He learned about it on television.

MA While underpaid, Drexler's balloon payment that will earn him

$9.75 million next season could be a stumbling block in a trade. He says he'd be willing to alter the balloon payment for a trade.

"I'm not bitter at all, it's just business," Drexler said. "I'm not going to get into anything negative. But don't keep me [in Portland] and keep me miserable."

Around the league

New York Knicks guard Greg Anthony has fallen out of the team's rotation, with Riley going with three guards: Derek Harper, John Starks and Hubert Davis. "I don't have any frustration about not playing," Anthony said. "It's a long season." . . . What's a week without something to report from the New Jersey Nets? Forward Derek Coleman missed a game-day shoot-around last week because of car problems -- while the Nets were on the road. New Jersey was in Detroit, Coleman's hometown. By the way, Coleman has a clause in his contract that says he must stay in a suite when the team is on the road.

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