Brand begins acting like he's No. 1 among rookies; Top pick making case for postseason honors; All-Star notebook


OAKLAND, Calif. -- There were some questions about Elton Brand when he left Duke after his sophomore year and became the top pick of the Chicago Bulls, as well as the No. 1 selection overall.

Some scouts wondered how effective the 6-foot-8, 260-pound center would be in the pros, whether he could get his shot off inside without having much of an outside game. The Bulls -- and Brand -- struggled early in the season.

Lately, the so-called Beat-a-Bulls have become a bit more competitive, and Brand has become a more versatile offensive player. He has added a mid-range jump shot to his repertoire. It came out of necessity.

"I was getting four or five shots blocked a game early in the season," Brand said yesterday.

Brand has overtaken Los Angeles Clippers forward Lamar Odom and Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis in the rookie scoring race. With 18.2 points a game and 9.7 rebounds -- also tops among the rookies -- Brand is now getting serious attention for the NBA's Rookie of the Year.

"I'm not into individual accolades right now," said Brand, who'll take part in the today's Schick Rookie Challenge, teaming up with Francis and Odom to take on some of the league's second-year stars. "I want to get the wins right now."

Where's the Mailman?

There's doubt that Utah forward Karl Malone, who skipped media day as All-Star weekend got under way, will show for tomorrow's game. He decided to stay at his family ranch on the Arkansas-Louisiana border.

"I'm still not sure if he's coming," said teammate John Stockton. "I don't know what battle he's fighting."

Malone has expressed a distaste for the way the NBA is promoting its younger players instead of its veterans, and had tried to back out of All-Star weekend by claiming he wanted to recover from nagging injuries.

On the fly

Francis will be among the busiest of those participating in tonight's activities. After playing in the Rookie Challenge game, Francis will hook up with Cynthia Cooper of the WNBA's Houston Comets in the 2ball competition and then will be in the dunk competition.

"He's the man," said Rock Newman, the Washington boxing promoter who has joined Francis' management team.

Francis was unavailable for comment yesterday, after his plane was delayed coming out of Houston and the former Maryland standout couldn't make it to the media session. Francis went directly to practice at the Coliseum, said Houston Rockets publicist Tim Frank.

Three's a crowd

For the fourth consecutive All-Star Game, Georgetown will have the most representatives. In replacing Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson is joining Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. North Carolina also will have three -- Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace -- for the first time since 1988. UCLA is the only other school to have three former players in the same game. The Bruins did it from 1972 through 1975.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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