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No triangle offense for the West

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Posted: Sunday February 13, 2000 12:49 PM

  Chris Webber got a taste of a championship practice from Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Doug Pensinger/Allsport

By Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Twenty minutes before Saturday's Slam Dunk Contest, Sixers guard Allen Iverson was jogging down a hallway at The Arena when he said to no one in particular, "Vin-sanity!"

Even Iverson it seems was excited about Raptors forward Vince Carter's inauguration as the NBA's next great dunkmeister. And Carter did not disappoint. With two of the more memorable efforts in Slam Dunk history, Carter breezed to victory over Rockets guard Steve Francis and teammate Tracy McGrady.

Before Carter's between-the-legs heroics with his second dunk, it appeared as if the Slam Dunk contest was destined to be a disappointment. In keeping with recent history, the event was shaping up like always: a big dunk, usually off a bounced throw; a big reaction from the crowd; a bigger reaction from the group of NBA players seated courtside, all of whom fall all over each other in disbelief; a ridiculous score of 49-50.... Yawn!

But just when folks were remembering why the NBA decided a few years ago to put the tired old Slam Dunk act on hold, along came Carter to give it new life. Not only was Carter the best dunker of the group of six contestants; he was also the most creative. His first dunk, a 360 helicopter, was awesome. His third, the between-the-legs masterpiece, was worthy of Jordan. His fourth, which left him hanging from the rim by his right elbow, was positively scary. OK, so his final attempt, a length of court dash followed by a two-handed dunk, was safe and routine. It didn't matter. Carter's effort not only had won him the Slam Dunk title. It had saved the event for at least one more year.

Before the Rookie Game, Kings forward Chris Webber and Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace wandered onto press row still dressed in their warmups, lugging their gym bags, and sat down in two seats reserved for Sports Illustrated.

"Man, that was a real practice!" Webber said, when asked about the one-hour long session West coach Phil Jackson put his team through. "I guess that's how you win six championships."

Don't look for the Western team to run much of Jackson's famed triangle offense, however.

"No we're not using the triangle," Webber said. "We didn't work on that at all."

Webber and Wallace stuck around for the entire first half, yelling encouragement to players on the court and oohing and aahing over brilliant plays -- just like a couple of real SI writers (except without beer bellies and bad haircuts).

When Rockets guard Steve Francis deked Grizzlies guard Mike Bibby by momentarily rolling the ball off the back of his hand and then burying a three, Wallace and Webber doubled over in laughter and high-fived. Webber also got in the free-flowing spirit of the affair, encouraging teammate Jason Williams to show his stuff at every opportunity.

"Pull it up from half court, JWill!," Webber yelled as Williams stood on the court a few feet away. "Pull it up from half, dog. Let's see a deep 3."

Williams appeared to take his teammate's advice seriously, chucking up three-point bombs from as far away as San Jose at every opportunity. It was more than just good basketball that was keeping Webber in good spirits. After the West practice, Jackson had gathered his team around and promised $50 to the first player who could hit a halfcourt shot. The winner, after just a few tries: Webber.

Williams might love basketball, but apparently he wanted to get out and soak up some of the San Francisco night life as well. When told before the game that it would feature 15:00 halves, with stoppages for whistles (as opposed to running time), he winced. Why?

"Because I wanna get in, get out. Get in, get out. Get in, get out," he said, doing a little shimmy as Sophomore teammates Cuttino Mobley of the Rockets and Mike Bibby of the Grizzlies looked on in laughter. "Get in, win this thing, then get out!"

Good line I: The NBA provided coaches and players with goody bags full of trinkets and momentos as they checked into their hotels. Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy was carrying three such bags over his shoulder as he walked through the Westin Hotel on Friday when Kings guard Tony Delk, in the hotel to visit fellow NBA players, kidded him about it. "I'm just carrying Allan [Houston]'s bags," Van Gundy said.

Good line II: When asked how his career would have been different if his hometown Chicago Bulls had drafted him instead of Jason Caffey in 1995, Mavericks guard Michael Finley smiled and replied that he'd have six championship rings. After a long pause, Finley was reminded that the Bulls had won their first three titles from `91 to `93, when Finley was at Wisconsin. "I know," Finley said. "But we would have won the last two years and next year, too. So that makes six rings."

If there's a silver lining in the Rookie Game for the purists, maybe it's that Bulls forward Elton Brand won the MVP. "See, you don't need to be flashy to win," the rugged power forward said, after his workmanlike 14-point, 21-rebound performance. "I guess I did it the old-fashioned way."

Brand admitted he had a little extra incentive, thanks to Celtics second-year guard Paul Pierce.

"All day Paul Pierce was talking trash, giving the rookies stuff, saying we were going to lose," Brand said with a laugh. "So I'm glad we could beat him just to shut him up."

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