Lucky because under normal circumstances Rider would be facing heavy criticism nationally for going into the stands to intervene in an argument last week at Golden State (for which he was suspended for one game). The incident came within days of his being sued by a fan who was allegedly spat on by Rider last season (he was suspended three games for that offense).
What's saving Rider? The Blazers have the best record in the league, a major accomplishment playing in the tough Western Conference.
The key to Portland's success is a deep bench and the embracing of a team concept. Ten players are in coach Mike Dunleavy's regular rotation, with just two -- Damon Stoudamire and Brian Grant -- playing more than 32 minutes a game.
While Stoudamire's averages in scoring, assists and field-goal percentage are at a low for his four-year career, he has shown signs of maturity in that he realizes the talent around him and is not being selfish. In a balanced attack, five Portland players are averaging in double figures.
"They play  guys consistently, so they come off the bench pretty strong," said Phoenix Suns forward Tom Gugliotta. "They seem to handle it well. They've got a lot of different personalities on that team. If there's any chaos over there, they're keeping it within."
Everybody's keeping it within except for Rider, who has received three one-game suspensions this season. The first was for leaving the bench during an on-the-court altercation, the second for kneeing Sacramento Kings guard Jon Barry in the head, and the third last week when he went into the stands in an incident that involved his brother (Rider did not throw a punch, and most of his team didn't realize he had left the bench).
Rider also has been involved in two multi-violation traffic stops in the past five weeks.
"I'm disappointed," Dunleavy said. "I'm disappointed that we're a team that has the best record in the league and we're having to fight through things that we shouldn't have to fight through."
At first glance, there is nothing intimidating about Darrell Armstrong. On his 6-foot-1 frame he carries 180 pounds -- which seems like a stretch.
But as the Orlando Magic went into the weekend with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the play of Armstrong off the bench has been key. He's averaging better than 13 points and six assists, and the high energy he takes into the point guard position has taken a lot of the pressure off Penny Hardaway.
It's not bad for the former walk-on at Fayetteville (N.C.) State, who was also the football team's kicker for two years. Armstrong took the long route to the NBA, playing in the USBL, GBA (on the South Georgia team of the Global Basketball Association), the CBA and overseas in Cyprus and Spain.
Armstrong, 30, was a late-season signee by the Magic in the final weeks of the 1994-95 season, and his minutes have increased each season since then.
Armstrong -- who binges on coffee and chocolate before games -- was last week named NBA Player of the Week. It was the first time in three seasons that a non-starter won the award.
Around the league
The Miami Heat may have dropped five of six games going into last night against New Jersey, but the team with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference figures to get stronger for the stretch run.
Small forward Jamal Mashburn, who had been out since the first week when he suffered a hyper-extended knee, returned Thursday. And shooting guard Voshon Lenard is expected to return this week. Lenard has missed the entire season with a stress fracture of his left tibia.
Weekend warriors? Going into yesterday's game at Toronto, the Washington Wizards were 6-1 in games played on Saturdays and Sundays.
When Jim Cleamons was fired by Don Nelson as coach of the Dallas Mavericks, he had a 28-70 record through 98 games. The 98-game record of Nelson, who replaced Cleamons: 26-72, or two games worse than Cleamons. Does that mean Nelson fires himself?
Dennis Rodman is at it again. When the Los Angeles Lakers lost at the buzzer to the Kings just over a week ago, Rodman refused to enter the game in the fourth quarter, telling coach Kurt Rambis that he had been out of the game too long and was too stiff. After meeting with Rodman, Rambis said, "I believe there's going to be a lot of positive things that are going to come out of that discussion."
After the Utah Jazz suffered a 26-point blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers just over a week ago, ESPN.com dropped the team to 30th place in its rankings of 29 teams.
Milestones: Detroit Pistons guard Joe Dumars played in his 1,000th game on Thursday; Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon scored his 25,000th point on Thursday; and Wizards guard Mitch Richmond scored his 18,000th point on Wednesday.
"My prayers aren't being answered. I'm going to a higher authority."
-- New Jersey Nets interim coach Don Casey, on his decision to go to Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, rather than the church he had been going to.
"One man's trash is another man's treasure."
-- Dennis Scott, on his starting with the Minnesota Timberwolves after being cut by a Knicks team that barely used him.
Pub Date: 4/04/99