You've heard the talk about Patrick Ewing the past few years. His knees are shot. He relies too much on his fadeaway jumper. The big guy just flat-out can't move.
Well, Ewing is looking pretty nimble these days and is a big reason the New York Knicks have recovered from their early woes to post a 24-9 record, good for second place in the Atlantic Division.
Ewing has blocked 30 shots in his past six games, including seven against the Washington Bullets earlier this month. The 7-foot center been attacking the basket, leaving some fans wondering where that aggression has been in previous years.
"I feel very young," Ewing said. "I've found that fountain of youth."
Maybe Ewing's new vigor has something to do with this being a contract year, with the Knicks' center looking forward to a deal worth at least $12 million per year when the season's over.
"I'm not answering any questions about next year," Ewing said. "And I'm not worried about it yet."
Don't get sold on Ewing yet. He has played just five times this season against so-called quality centers -- one against Shaquille O'Neal, two against Alonzo Mourning and two against Dikembe Mutombo.
In those games, Ewing has shot 38.9 percent and averaged 18.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 0.4 blocks, all below his season averages: 47.2 percent shooting, 20.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
The lack of quality centers in the league gives Ewing a free pass nine out every 10 nights.
"Fountain of youth?" Let's see how young Ewing is Tuesday night, when he faces Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.
Coleman stands out
Lost amid the Philadelphia 76ers' rubble (seven straight losses, 17 in the past 18 games) has been the play of Derrick Coleman.
The 6-foot-10 forward somehow has managed to get Allen Iverson to pass him the ball. The result: Coleman averaged 21.3 points, 11.7 rebounds (6.1 offensive) and 3.0 blocks on a recent seven-game trip.
Seattle coach George Karl was impressed after Coleman scored 22 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked five shots in a loss to the SuperSonics last week.
"Derrick has played some of the best games any power forward has ever had against my teams," Karl said. "He was impressive."
Unfortunately for the sad-sack 76ers, Coleman lacerated his left pinky in Wednesday night's loss to the Dallas Mavericks and was placed on the injured list yesterday.
Coleman was attempting to block a shot by Dallas' Oliver Miller with 1: 35 left in the first quarter. He hit his left hand on the rim and opened the gash, which took 10 stitches to close.
Around the league
The on-court success of the Miami Heat (25-9, first in Atlantic Division) has not translated to box-office success. Miami has sold out just six of 13 home games, the reason most of the business side of the front office was fired this week.
"We've done everything we can do from a marketing and sales standpoint, and it seems like it hasn't had a whole lot of impact," said Heat coach/president Pat Riley, who committed $162.3 million on free-agent contracts to four players alone in the off-season.
The Atlanta Hawks had decided last week to to waive forward Henry James on Monday. But a 19-point game in a win over the Knicks on Saturday saved his job. He then went out and hit an off-balance, game-winning three-pointer in Tuesday night's victory over the Phoenix Suns.
You don't think there's a dearth of talent in the NBA? Consider that, with Dino Radja injured, Marty Conlon (6-10) is now the biggest player with the Boston Celtics, and rookie Antoine Walker is the new starting center.
When the Celtics play host to the Washington Bullets on Jan. 18, it will be Boston's first Saturday regular-season game since the 1971-72 season.
Saturday's Chicago-Houston game will feature six of the NBA's "50 Top Players of All Time" -- Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Robert Parish of the Bulls, and Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler of the Rockets.
When guard Penny Hardaway returned to the Orlando Magic lineup Tuesday, his alter-ego, "Li'l Penny," was nowhere in sight. Too bad, because official Bob Delany bought out "Li'l Bob" when he came on the court, a doll dressed in a referee's outfit.
Yinka "Stinka" Dare career assist update: The New Jersey Nets center was shut out again last night against Minnesota, leaving his career total at zero.
Quote of the week
The Heat's Mourning, after his team's 14-game road winning streak ended in Utah against the Jazz on Saturday: "I know we're a better team than they are. I have no respect for them, none of them -- especially Karl Malone."
You can e-mail Jerry Bembry at Jeryol.com
Pub Date: 1/10/97