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Croce could be savior for struggling Phils, 76ers

Over the last few years, due to mounting evidence of their flagrant and disturbing shortcomings, it's clear a couple of Philadelphia teams - the Phillies and 76ers - are in desperate need of a few things.

Victories would be first on the list. Charisma a close second. And, goodness only knows, an astute public relations department wouldn't hurt anybody.

There was a time every franchise in this city knew this. A time when Pat Croce was sprinting around, resembling a motivational speaker on speed transforming a city long infamous for its cynicism into a sports town publicized for its euphoria.

It's five years later now. Years removed from the days of Allen Iverson sitting on coach Larry Brown's lap after capturing league-MVP honors, from the Sixers being allowed to sniff the NBA Finals - and the Phillies being everything but a playoff team - and the thing that appears clearer than ever is how much this city needs Pat Croce back in the mix.

Just the other day, Croce was on Angelo Cataldi's Morning Show on WIP-AM (610), and when asked what he'd do if the Phillies were willing to sell, he responded with two words: "I buy!"

That's all anyone should need to hear.

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Bucks Stop Here

DON'T know where recent report came from that outgoing Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, a Chicago native, intends to buy the Bucks next season and hire Jerry West when his Memphis contract expires in May.

From what I'm told, there's no truth to that story whatsoever. It might be a delayed/distorted offshoot of a sly move by Heisley a while back when he offered to swap franchises with Herb Kohl.

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Isiah mixes and matches his backcourt

Isiah Thomas has all but settled on his starting backcourt. There's little doubt it'll be Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury, and that comes as no surprise. The only real intrigue comes in the backup roles and what to do with Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford and Jalen Rose.

The latter two started for the Knicks last night in a 102-100 victory over the 76ers, yet another team that played without two starters. The Knicks avoided Jason Kidd and Vince Carter in Friday night's preseason-opening win over the Nets; 76ers big men Samuel Dalembert (hamstring) and Chris Webber (flu) sat out last night.

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Allan may take another shot

Even on the other side of the world, they know all about Allan Houston and the shot that made him famous.

"Amazing," Houston says after returning from a trip to Hong Kong 10 days ago to promote junior NBA programs. "I had more people stop me in China to ask me about the Knicks than I do in New York. They ask me about the shot against Miami."

Somehow, it has already been 71/2 years since Houston's leaner in the final seconds of a first-round playoff series propelled the Knicks to a postseason run that culminated with a trip to the NBA Finals. It remains one of the most memorable baskets in franchise history.

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Alonzo Mourning on Dorell Wright

'His shooting has gotten a lot better, [but] he has to improve his passing.'' . . . Despite talk of a summer contract extension for James Posey, there have been no recent discussions. He and Gary Payton are the only rotation players unsigned past this season.
 

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Mcinnis Becoming Moot Point For Nets

Though Marcus Williams, the latest backup point guard to Jason Kidd, continues to impress and grow for the Nets, last year's version, Jeff McInnis, awaits a resolution to his situation.

"Jeff wants to play again and he doesn't understand to this day what happened," said McInnis' agent, Steve Kauffman. "Jeff got off to a slow start, he didn't shoot real well and got beat. But it was still early. I don't know why you would give a guy a second year and then not play him."

That is the course the Nets took. McInnis, who signed a two-year $7 million free-agent deal, fell from favor, got a second chance but injured his knee, underwent surgery, then never was heard from again as issues over his rehab arose.

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Carter tunes out contract

Vince Carter and Nets' president Rod Thorn sat together for about 20 minutes during a recent practice and not once was Carter's contract discussed.

Each man knows where the other stands.

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Bird still aches to feather his nest

When Larry Bird stood in a Conseco Fieldhouse hallway for a conversation last season, he didn’t look so good. Sure it’s hard on a big man when the years start piling on after a long and physically debilitating career, but it was clear the travails of his Pacers were having a visible effect on the Legend.
And it’s doubtful he’s looking any prettier after Stephen Jackson mixed a strip club fight with some small weapons fire.
‘‘I’ve never been around anything like this,” Bird said on Wednesday after Jackson was hit with felony charges. ‘‘It’s new to me, and it’s frustrating. Getting a phone call at 6 in the morning is not something I like.”

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A look at early game plans for rising in the East

Two weeks into the preseason, and everybody's got an agenda, not the least of which is getting out of October in one piece.

Here's what the coaches in the East want to accomplish this month, excluding the locals:

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Preseason Mavs don't resemble playoff team

A pop quiz was presented to Avery Johnson Saturday afternoon. He was asked in which area the Mavericks were further along, offense or defense.

"Neither," he said. "They're in a dead heat."

As in, tied for last.

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Arenas Puts His Defense To the Test

Gilbert Arenas has talked about becoming a better defensive player this season and he has even asked Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan to assign him to defend some of the game's best scorers.

Arenas showed he is serious about those aspirations by opening Saturday night's preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with one of the toughest assignments in the NBA: LeBron James.

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