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AROUND THE RIM
One reason the Blazers didn't acquire the outlandish contracts of Vince Carter and Jalen Rose was the threat of a graduated luxury tax next season. Teams that are above the luxury tax threshold (estimated at $56 million) are scheduled to pay a dollar-for-dollar tax. But league execs say that David Stern is threatening to curb big spenders with escalating penalties of up to 500%. The players' union, which is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for next season, opposes the proposal.... Shaquille O'Neal's presence is creating open shots for the Heat, but Eddie Jones (left) isn't knocking his down. Through Sunday the team's leading scorer of the last four years was shooting 33.8%--10.2% below his career average--because he's less comfortable spotting up for jumpers than coming off screens and firing on the run.... The Blazers' Joel Przybilla and the Wizards' Michael Ruffin are on track to extend their unfortunate streaks: They've had more fouls than points in each of their first four seasons. But Przybilla (31 fouls and 17 points at week's end) and Ruffin (59 and 25) have a lot more hacking to do to match Charles Jones's 11-year streak.
WHO IS ... MATT BONNER?
After making his NBA debut, the 24-year-old forward yelled to Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, "Thanks for putting me in the game!" A second-round pick out of Florida in 2003, Bonner played last year in Sicily and signed with Toronto for a nonguaranteed $385,277. At 6'10" and 240 pounds, he overcomes his tweener size with a sweet stroke: At week's end he was scoring 7.7 points per game on 56.1% shooting from the floor. After home games the Red Rocket (so named for his auburn hair) walks through the pedestrian tunnels to his one-bedroom downtown apartment, stopping for a late-night sandwich at Mr. Sub. "Fans will turn around, and there I am in line with them," says Bonner. "It's great to see their reaction."
3. The 76ers made the right move in restoring 7-foot Samuel Dalembert to the starting lineup. It may take time, but if assistant Dick Harter can school Dalembert on defense, he could become a top-tier shot blocker and the key to Philly's playoff push.
2. With no team seizing command in the East, the Jan. 15 return of Jermaine O'Neal could be pivotal. O'Neal has never had a killer instinct to match his colossal talent. If he comes back with a chip on his shoulder, the struggling Pacers will make up ground fast.
1. If recent talk of awarding the 2008 All-Star Game to New Orleans is another attempt at bailing out owner George Shinn, the NBA is wasting its time. It's a good idea only if the date helps lure a prospective buyer into taking the Hornets off Shinn's hands.