Young players see the Air of their ways

Give Grant Hill credit. Last year's "next Michael Jordan" knows it's probably not the smartest move to set off the real Jordan. So, as much as the media tried to bait him during a national teleconference call this week, the Detroit Pistons star would not be drawn into any controversial remarks.

"He's the best player in the world," Hill said. "And that's that."


Seems that Jordan -- intentionally or not -- is doing a good job of striking a bit of fear into a few of the league's young players.

Just ask Philadelphia rookie Jerry Stackhouse -- this year's "next Michael Jordan" -- who apparently said earlier this season he could play Jordan one-on-one, and his transition to the NBA had been easier than expected. Jordan scored a season-high 48 against the Sixers, winking at the Philadelphia bench after almost every score. Afterward, Jordan said that "basketball taught [Stackhouse] a lesson" in the game.


"I heard on CNN that somebody said I made a quote that said I could beat [Jordan] one-on-one," said Stackhouse, a North Carolina product who had played against Jordan in Chapel Hill. "It's not that I didn't say it, I'm not going to back down, either. I think I might've said I didn't feel anybody could stop me one-on-one. Next thing I know, it's Jordan, it's Chicago."

The carry-over from that one Jordan performance has reached north of the border, where Toronto point guard Damon Stoudamire was apprehensive to say that he should be in the real All-Star Game, and not the rookie game, which he was named to this week. Maybe his apprehension had something to do with the Raptors playing the Bulls last night.

"The last time a rookie said something was Jerry Stackhouse," Stoudamire said. "Then Jordan lit him up for 48 points."

Well, Jordan made his presence felt last night, scoring 15 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Bulls to a 92-89 win, but Stoudamire also held his own with 26 points and 12 assists.

Which brings us back to Hill, called the "savior" of sports in a cover story in GQ magazine last year. Hill is actually relieved that Jordan is back.

"He is the messiah, if you can call him that," Hill said. "And him being here, playing and competing the way he always does makes it easy on me. I can be a second-year player now, and just try to get better and better."

Life without Rodman

It was a question that was posed recently to David Robinson: Are the San Antonio Spurs, minus the game's best rebounder in Dennis Rodman, a better team this year than last?


"I think it's hard to tell," Robinson said. "Last year we had a certain mix, a certain chemistry and an attitude that was special. Dennis was somewhat of a distraction and, actually, that kept everyone focused. But I don't know if everyone has the same kind of focus from last year."

The focus might not be there, but the Spurs -- at least in terms of wins and losses -- are a better team. Last year after 34 games the Spurs were 21-13. Before last night's 100-98 loss in Detroit, San Antonio was 25-9, had a five-game winning streak and was leading the Midwest Division by percentage points over the defending NBA champion Houston Rockets.

Robinson, last year's MVP, has been a major factor. Going into play last night, he was third in the league in scoring (25.8), first in rebounding (12.4) and second in blocks (3.68). The team has fared well with Will Perdue, J. R. Reid and Carl Herrera sharing time at power forward.

"When I talk to the guys, I tell them that if we want to live [last year] down, we have to win games," said Robinson, who had 37 points last night. "Somebody has to step up and play the 4-position [power forward] like it needs to be played, and we don't have to answer any more questions."

Robinson described teaming with Rodman as being "a part of a circus for a couple of years." And still, Robinson said Rodman was the toughest person he has played with in his career.

"As far as bringing attitude and a lot of things, Dennis was pretty talented," Robinson said. "He was a tough-minded guy; he knew he could get 20 rebounds. When he was into it, he was very, very good."


Around the league

Putting Stacey Augmon into the starting lineup in place of Ken Norman has sparked the recent five-game win streak of the Atlanta Hawks. "The chemistry is better," coach Lenny Wilkens said. "He gives us quickness, he gives us unselfishness. He can go three, four minutes without the ball and not hang his head." . . . Former Dunbar guard Muggsy Bogues is practicing about once a week as he recovers from surgery on his left knee, and has targeted Feb. 1 for his return. . . . Cleveland guard Dan Majerle had little sympathy for recently fired Phoenix coach Paul Westphal. "Do I think it was unfair?" Majerle said, repeating a question about his former coach. "No, he has to be held accountable, just like everyone else."

Quote of the week

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, measuring the impact of changing Brendan Byrne Arena in the New Jersey Meadowlands to Continental Airlines Arena:

"All seats will be made smaller, leg room will be removed and all games will start 20 minutes late."