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Final spot is up for grabs

Three hopefuls. One spot.

The math is obvious. The competition intense.

The Mavericks hit the halfway point of the preseason Tuesday night with a trio of free agents -- guards Jose Barea and Darius Washington, and forward Ndudi Ebi -- in the running for the lone opening on the 15-man roster.

The other free agent to open training camp (Pat Carroll) was cut earlier this week and those remaining have yet to distinguish themselves in the eyes of coach Avery Johnson.

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Injured Williams out awhile

The most ordinary of basketball plays -- a scramble for a loose ball, and a routine collision -- will probably cost the Nets the services of Marcus Williams for at least the rest of the preseason and perhaps weeks beyond.

The rookie point guard, who had been very impressive in the first three preseason games, suffered a sprained left wrist during practice yesterday, and the team said Williams will be out "indefinitely."

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The Heat has spoken to agents for several veteran point guards

The Heat has spoken to agents for several veteran point guards (including 34-year-old Nick Van Exel), but prefers someone younger. . . . Antoine Walker, who needs to get in better shape, has no plans to reduce his three-point attempts (unlike Gary Payton) but wants to add ``an in-between game -- dribble, pump fake, take one step.''
 

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Smith: Nothin' But (Inter)Net

You know what bites?

Early preseason games. Like the first two or three, which are really summer league games in bigger gyms with marginally larger crowds than you’d get in Vegas in July.

So, here’s an idea and perhaps the people in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment might want to shield their eyes: Sell every ticket to the first home preseason game - heck, make it the first three pre-season home games - for $10.

Yep, TEN BUCKS. Okay, maybe $15 for the lower bowl and $10 for the upper; make all seating first-come, first-served.

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KNICKS Looking forward

Isiah Thomas last night began auditions at starting small forward to replace Jared Jeffries, who is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks with a fractured wrist. It seems to be an open competition, except for veteran Jalen Rose, who was given what appears to be a token start there in the Knicks' 116-108 preseason win over the Celtics at Madison Square Garden last night.

Thomas suggested before the game that Rose, 31, might not have enough left in his tank to fill the role, especially on defense. "We pretty much know who he is and what he's got," Thomas said of a player former coach Larry Brown lobbied to acquire last season. "There might not be a lot of run left in that body, so we may need to conserve some of that run."


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Nets Counting On Krstic To Bust Out

Ask anyone about Nenad Krstic for this season and they claim double-double averages are within reach. Ask Nenad Krstic and he changes the subject.

"I don't want to say, because I say numbers last year and don't do it," insisted Krstic, who recalled how last year he set a goal of nine rebounds a game. "But I didn't, so I don't want to say that any more. Bad luck. I know I must get more rebounds."

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Rondo shines in loss

NEW YORK - Rajon Rondo earned a few more believers with his play while the Celtics earned another preseason loss last night.
Playing all but the last 27 seconds of the second half (Sebastian Telfair felt sick at the break), Rondo had enough energy for 12 fourth-quarter points. But the Celts allowed the Knicks 30 second-chance points off 18 offensive rebounds and fell to 1-3 with a 116-108 loss.
Four of Rondo’s 14 points (he added seven assists and three steals before fouling out) came in a two-second span early in the fourth period. He dunked the rebound of a Gerald Green missed jumper, stole Channing Frye’s inbounds pass and laid the ball in while being fouled.

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Bad News for McKie's Back

Aaron McKie started his first game of the NBA exhibition season, but he didn't last long. He suffered back spasms 1:21 into the game and quickly asked to come out of the game.

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Growing buzz draws sellout

Four preseason games into the schedule, Suns fans were pining so much to see their team make its US Airways Center debut that the building sold out Tuesday.

They are feeling the "Eyes on the Prize" theme and agreeing with this week's Sports Illustrated prediction for a Suns title. The players' sentiment did not match the buzz as an indifferent look led to a 107-96 loss to the Clippers.

Steve Nash had seven turnovers. Shawn Marion made one shot. And the Amaré Stoudemire "roller coaster," as Mike D'Antoni called his integration, had another rocky day.

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Keep important players happy

As the days dwindle for those first-round picks from the draft class of 2003 who have yet to receive contract extensions, we're going to hear a lot of rhetoric from management and affected players.

Expect to hear player personnel types insisting there is little to lose by waiting until next summer, when the 2003 first-rounders become restricted free agents. Expect coaches to insist they expect no problems from non-extended players, no matter how thoroughly those players might be disappointed they didn't get long-term security. Count on players to promise to play just the same as if they had gotten the sort of extension they sought.

Then file all those comments in the B.S. Bin.

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Kaman's Offer Emphasizes Dunleavy's Influence

Apparently unaware that the Clippers offered him a five-year, $50-million contract, center Chris Kaman recently made confusing comments to reporters about the organization's commitment to him.

Coach Mike Dunleavy moved quickly to clarify things after a team official informed him of the situation, confirming that he gave a proposal to Kaman's agent Sunday because "I have the authority to make an offer."

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D-League is not being put to the best use

RYAN HOWARD spent nearly four seasons in the minor leagues before he got his first taste of major league action late in the 2004 season.

There's no way to know for sure, but it's doubtful that the Phillies slugger would have been named the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year or be favored to win 2006 NL Most Valuable Player honors had he not spent the time in the minors honing his skills.

Obviously, 76ers second-year guard Louis Williams didn't win NBA Rookie of the Year, and it's unlikely he'll ever contend for an MVP.

Still, you have to wonder how much further along Williams would be had he played last season in the NBA Development League instead of sitting at the end of the Sixers' bench.

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Raps to copy Celtic greats

Forget the image of the Raptors becoming Phoenix East and dredge up videotape from the Boston Garden.

Knowing that his personnel will never evoke comparisons to Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw, Raptor coach Sam Mitchell said he wants his club to try to emulate the great Celtic teams of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Larry Parrish.

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Marcus latest injured Net

The Nets' new third jersey is red, but maybe they should consider bubble wrap.

Rookie point guard Marcus Williams sprained his left wrist at practice yesterday and is out indefinitely. After an MRI, the Nets said the wrist was only sprained, not broken.

Still, short of an injury to their Big Three, this is the last thing the Nets needed. They're already thin at guard, as Eddie House underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday.

The good news for the Nets is Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson are healthy. The bad news is almost everyone else of consequence is or has been banged up in training camp.

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Telfair at home with cousin Marbury issue

NEW YORK - Sebastian Telfair was able to concentrate on the hoop and avoid the hoopla last night. In his other three appearances in his dream gym, Madison Square Garden, the spotlight shone bright on him from the moment he walked in the door.
But there was not a single special media request last night as Telfair played his third game here as a professional. It was about the basketball - not any alleged hard feelings from the past between his family and cousin Stephon Marbury.
There was barely a ripple from the crowd as Telfair was announced with the Celtics starting lineup, but there were some murmurs and even a few catcalls toward Marbury when Telfair scored the first nine points against the Knicks.

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K-Mart has goals, big plans

In the mirror, Kenyon Martin sees a loving father and a future NBA all-star.

He knows many people see him as everything that's wrong with the Nuggets.

"I'm going to rub some people the wrong way. And I don't mind that. I don't care. I don't care, you know what I'm saying?" Martin said Tuesday. "I'm going to be Kenyon. I'm not going to change.

"I'm not going to change the way I play the game of basketball. I'm going to still scream, yell, cuss, whatever it is I do on that basketball court. Because that's what got me here. And if I change that, I wouldn't be Kenyon."

For $93 million, the Nuggets bought a mountain of regrets when they obtained the 6-foot-9 power forward in a 2004 trade with New Jersey.

K-Mart was gonna make this Denver team a contender.

Instead, he made a mess.

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Webber says nothing less than an NBA title will do this season

When your team is coming off a sub-.500 year for the second time in three seasons and finished the regular season in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference in rebounding and scoring defense, giving up more than 101 points per game, chances are you probably have heard just about all the bad things that can be said.

However, to 76ers forward Chris Webber, that's a good thing.

"When everything you hear about you is bad, you realize you just need to play," Webber said yesterday after practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"Some of it may be true and some may not, but that's not for us to judge... it's for us to go out there, shut up and play."

Despite critics who don't envision a bright season for the Sixers, Webber said with a straight face that he has no time for anything less than a championship and doesn't need any more "moral victories."

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Long year still wearing on Wade

As the rest of his teammates are finding their legs, Dwyane Wade is wondering where his went.

That's presented Heat coach Pat Riley with a concern.

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Haywood, Jordan Put Rift Behind Them

For the sake of their fractured -- some would say obliterated -- relationship, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan and center Brendan Haywood needed to come together. They had to talk.

When Jordan had exit meetings following the team's first-round elimination by the Cleveland Cavaliers in last season's playoffs, he offered one tip to each of his players. With most, the advice was related to basketball. With Haywood, who was coming off the first season in which his production declined, Jordan simply said, "I just want our relationship to get better."

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