Assist record will prove Stockton no passing fancy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a game often highlighted by play above the rim, Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton -- 6 feet 1, 175 pounds -- has spent an 11-year career playing below it. And that's not a problem for Stockton, who this week should become the NBA's all-time assist leader.

Stockton, who yesterday was named NBA Player of the Week after averaging 16.5 points and 13.5 assists in Utah's four wins, has 9,911 career assists and needs 11 to claim the mark. He most likely will get the record tomorrow night when the Jazz plays host to the Denver Nuggets.

A member of the 1992 Dream Team, Stockton started the season third on the all-time assist list. He has passed Oscar Robertson (9,887) and is bearing down on Dream Team teammate Magic Johnson (9,921).

With a league-leading 12.2 assists per game, Stockton is almost sure to lead the league for the eighth time -- which would tie him with Bob Cousy, who did it from 1952 to 1960.

A 1984 first-round pick out of Gonzaga, Stockton has never really sought out the record.

"I don't judge my performance on how many assists I have or how many points I have," said Stockton, who has missed only four games in his career. "I've played games where I thought I played one of my better games and statistically there's nothing there, and vice versa. I've never based how I feel about my performance on stats."

But those stats have helped the Jazz to a league-best 13-game winning streak -- and 15 straight on the road, one away from the NBA record set by the 1991-92 Los Angeles Lakers.

If the Jazz gets the record Thursday in Houston, where Utah has lost four of its past five regular-season games, Stockton probably will have a say in the outcome.

"As a coach," Utah's Jerry Sloan said, "you probably only have one player like John."

All about All-Stars

Amazingly, Stockton wasn't selected as a starter for the Western Conference All-Stars, with Golden State's Latrell Sprewell and Phoenix's Dan Majerle, a reserve for the Suns, selected as the starting backcourt. Reserves are to be announced over the next two days, and here's one view on who should go to Phoenix for the Feb. 12 game.

The Eastern Conference starters are Orlando's Anfernee Hardaway and Indiana's Reggie Miller at guard, Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal at center, and Chicago's Scottie Pippen and Detroit rookie Grant Hill at forward.

At center, add Charlotte's Alonzo Mourning and New York's Patrick Ewing. At forward, the Hornets' Larry Johnson goes -- and maybe plays -- this year. Vin Baker of the Milwaukee Bucks was snubbed for the rookie game last season, but his 17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds make him an All-Star. The third spot goes to Cleveland's Tyrone Hill, right now the best power forward in the East. (Tells you how good the East is, huh?)

Picking two guards is tough. Cleveland's Mark Price would have gone if not for his injury. That opens the door up for Philadelphia's Dana Barros to go as a reserve alongside Detroit's Joe Dumars.

In the West, the starters are Phoenix's Charles Barkley and Seattle's Shawn Kemp at forward; Sprewell and Majerle at guard; and Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon at center.

There's only one other center in the West that deserves All-Star status, and that's San Antonio's David Robinson. My guards would be Sacramento's Mitch Richmond, Seattle's Gary Payton (both of whom deserve to start) and Stockton.

That leaves three forwards, with Utah's Karl Malone a given, going as a reserve along with the Lakers' Cedric Ceballos and Portland's Clifford Robinson.

No Derrick Coleman or Kenny Anderson in the East? Both need attitude adjustments.

No Clyde Drexler, Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn or Tim Hardaway in the West? Sorry, guys. As Mourning is quick to remind reporters, "What do you guys know?"

They're baaaack!

For those fans who were looking forward to an NBA Finals that featured two teams that actually played basketball instead of wrestling, your worst nightmares are coming true. It seems the Knicks are back.

John Starks has found his jumper. Ewing, though he still shoots that fadeaway baseline jumper, has healthy knees. And New York has managed to survive the loss of Charles Oakley (foot surgery) to win 15 of its past 17 games, including Sunday's blowout of the Suns.

Now a disclaimer.

The Knicks had two wins apiece during their streak over New Jersey and Minnesota, and most of the remaining wins were over teams that were slumping, including Houston and Cleveland.

A real test for the Knicks will be Sunday when they travel to Orlando to face a Magic team that blew New York off the court in their last meeting Dec. 2. Orlando's lead over New York in the Atlantic Division is seven games.

"People call me crazy, even the Spurs think I'm crazy, but they're the team to beat," said San Antonio guard Doc Rivers, a former Knick.

"Orlando and Charlotte still don't know how to make decisions with a few seconds left in a playoff game. The Knicks have been there before."

ASSIST MEN

Utah's John Stockton is looking to become the NBA's all-time assist leader. The top 10:

No. Player ............. Assists

1. Magic Johnson ........ 9,921

2. John Stockton ........ 9,911

3. Oscar Robertson ...... 9,887

4. Isiah Thomas ......... 9,061

5. Maurice Cheeks ....... 7,392

6. Lenny Wilkens ........ 7,211

7. Bob Cousy ............ 6,955

8. Guy Rodgers .......... 6,917

9. Nate Archibald ....... 6,476

10. John Lucas .......... 6,454

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