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Howard merits nod as All-Star


OK, so it's hard to think of a $15 million-a-year player as a victim, but there's a pretty good chance that Juwan Howard was robbed of a spot in next week's All-Star Game in his own building.

Howard, the 6-foot-9 forward of the Washington Wizards, won't show up on anyone's list of elite players, nor should he. But he has had a steady if not spectacular first half of the season that probably should have been rewarded with an All-Star berth next Sunday.

It has become fashionable to bash Howard, in the midst of a long-term, big-bucks contract, for not playing up to what he's paid. Indeed, the fans at MCI Center have let Howard have it throughout the season, booing so badly that both his coach, Leonard Hamilton, and his general manager, Wes Unseld, who signed Howard to the big contract, asked the crowds to ease up.

Howard, who will be 28 on Wednesday, could have returned the fire to the fans but, instead, has quietly put together a solid body of work in Washington's season of pain.

The seven-year veteran from Michigan is averaging about 18 points a game, shooting about 48 percent from the field and 75 percent from the foul line, pulling down seven rebounds a game in about 37 minutes, and dishing out 2.8 assists.

Contrast those numbers with those of Miami's Anthony Mason and New York's Latrell Sprewell, who were added to the All-Star roster last week. Mason is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds, hitting 40 percent from the field and 81 percent of his free throws. He averages 40 minutes and three assists a game. Sprewell, meanwhile, is averaging about 17.5 points, five rebounds, 3.6 assists and 38 minutes, shooting 43 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line.

In other words, the choice is not easy, but neither Mason nor Sprewell is leading his respective team in scoring, and Howard has been the Wizards' first and, at times, only option, what with Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland out for large chunks of the season, and Richard Hamilton splitting his time between starting and coming off the bench.

To cap it all off, Howard is a good guy, something that seems to be in short supply around professional sports these days, and (this bears repeating) has never cursed a fan or choked a coach. And his selection would mean something to him and to the long-suffering Wizards fans, as opposed to some players (re: Karl Malone), who try their hardest to duck the game.

NBA commissioner David Stern may have a chance to replace Toronto's Vince Carter, who hurt his knee last week, on the Eastern Conference roster. He should name Howard.


Milwaukee coach George Karl reached 600 career wins the sixth fastest of any coach in league history in the Bucks' 116-111 victory over Denver on Wednesday.

That ranks Karl only 17th on the all-time list. Three of the top 10 coaches with the most career wins have lifetime losing records. Name them. (Hint: Two of the three have Baltimore-Washington ties.)

Wounded warrior

More than a few wags have chuckled that fans voted Orlando's Grant Hill and Miami's Alonzo Mourning into the All-Star Game, even though the two have played a combined four games this season.

But Magic coach Doc Rivers says fans knew exactly what they were doing, especially in the case of Mourning, who has missed the season with a kidney ailment.

"I love it that he [Mourning] is on it," Rivers said. "We criticize Alonzo for playing with too much intensity, for being physical, for playing with emotion. That's exactly what we criticize most players for not doing throughout their careers. Because he does that, we criticize him for that. He might go too far, but if I was a coach, and I guess I am, that's what I would want.

"I'd rather have my guy be too emotional, play with too much intensity, and let me deal with that - rather than a guy who doesn't. Alonzo's always been misunderstood in that way. In Alonzo's case, [fans] were voting out of their hearts. It was a tribute to Alonzo."

Unbecoming conduct

Stern got it mostly right the other day, when he fined Philadelphia's Allen Iverson $5,000 for sticking out his tongue and using a derogatory term for gays, which was seen and heard by an NBC audience.

Iverson was taunted by Pacers fans during last Sunday's Indiana-Philadelphia game, though Pacers officials said their investigation of the incident found no evidence of fan abuse toward the Sixers guard.

Iverson said he turned to the game officials for help but got none and took matters into his own hands, which is never an appropriate solution for players.

Stern did the right thing in fining him, though a one-game suspension would have worked, too, given that the commissioner had criticized Iverson for using nearly identical language in a rap single last fall.

Still, Stern should send a warning to all teams to beef up the protection they provide to visiting players and coaches and should direct clubs to aggressively seek out the ultra-raucous idiots and toss them out permanently.

Quiz answer

Bill Fitch (944-1,106); Dick Motta (935-1,017), who coached the 1977-78 Washington Bullets team that won the NBA championship; and Gene Shue (784-861), who not only coached but also played for the Bullets after becoming an All-American at Maryland.

Quote of the week

"I'll tell you what - I saw Booth coming, and I've been watching DirecTV a lot lately. I felt like if I couldn't get it way up there, he would've blocked it. I laid it way up there high. Y'all should check to see if that ball's still up there." -Orlando guard Darrell Armstrong, after his layup over Washington's Calvin Booth helped beat the Wizards, 100-96, Wednesday.

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