NBA's All-Star Break

Steve Inskeep talks with commentator John Feinstein about the NBA as the league enters its All-Star break. So far, the Dallas Mavericks' winning ways have been a surprise, something that three returning legendary coaches have not yet been able to match.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The NBA reaches its annual All-Star break this weekend. The two teams that played for the title last June, the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons, remain at or near the top of their respective conferences. But in the case of the Spurs there's a surprise team sticking right with them.

Commentator John Feinstein has been following the season and joins us once again. John, good morning.

Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Commentator): Good morning Steve.

INSKEEP: So, surprising with the season almost two-thirds over; Detroit is dominant, the Spurs are doing very well, but the Mavericks are right up there too.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yeah, the Mavericks actually nosed just in front of the Spurs on the last night before the All-Star break began this week, with a record of 41 and 11, which is pretty impressive.

Interesting though, Jerry Stackhouse, one of their players, was asked why is everybody talking about the Spurs and the Pistons and not you, and his answer was, because we haven't done anything. And that's really true. The Mavericks have never been in the NBA finals.

Most people expect once you get into the playoffs that it'll be the Spurs rising to the top with Tim Duncan leading the way, and probably ending up playing the Pistons in a rematch of last year's final.

INSKEEP: So we're going into this All-Star break, we're going into the All-Star Game. You think Kobe Bryant might get a chance to shoot a shot or two?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: My guess is once he gets the ball it's going up. And that's the way he's playing now. He has become a one-man team. He had that remarkable 81-point night a few weeks ago, and he's leading the league in scoring.

But it's worth noting, Steve, that the Lakers, if the playoffs started today, would only be the eighth seed in the Western Conference. For all those Kobe's scoring, they are not a serious contender right now because Kobe, of course, demanded two years ago that Shaquille O'Neal or he be traded, and the Lakers chose to trade Shaquille O'Neal.

INSKEEP: Is he a good leader?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, I don't think he's a leader. I think he's a scorer. I think Kobe is about Kobe, as I said to you after that 81-point game. He's Gladys Knight and the rest of the Laker's are the Pips.

INSKEEP: And is it possible to make comparisons to Wilt Champerlin, who, when he was having his 100-point game, was on a team that also wasn't winning championships.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, to me, that's a good comparison, but remember, when Wilt Chamberlain scored the 100 points there was no three-point shot. The games were generally played at a much slower pace. And so I don't think its comparable except that Kobe's night was the second highest scoring night in history behind Wilt's 100.

INSKEEP: John, before we go, let's talk also about some coaches here. Three legendary coaches all had new jobs this season, and now we've had some games to see how they're doing.

Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Pat Riley: how are they doing?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, Phil Jackson, who ripped Kobe Bryant in his book a year ago, they're now buddies. And as I said, they're struggling along, trying to make the playoffs. So they're doing okay.

Larry Brown is suffering in New York. His team just ended a ten-game losing streak. They're 15 and 37; they're at the bottom of their division. I think Larry would like to trade the whole team and Madison Square Garden and start all over again.

And then, Pat Riley came back after twenty games, coincidentally just when Shaquille O'Neal came off the injured list, and the Heat have been playing well. They now have the second best record in the Eastern conference, but they're still way behind the Pistons.

INSKEEP: Larry Brown, one of the winingest coaches out there, but he's got one of the dilemmas that you face when you're a basketball coach. He's said to really like working with experienced players, and he's got some young ones. He's got a rebuilding situation.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yeah, the Knicks really have a very good rookie class, and that takes great patience. And Larry has never been patient. And when you're 65 and coaching your tenth team, you're bound not to be patient. So you're right, it is a difficult situation for Larry.

If history is any guide, he will turn the Knicks around. It's just a question of whether he can hang in there long enough to get them good again, cause he always turns teams around.

INSKEEP: John, thanks.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you Steve.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein. His new book is Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four, which is also coming up a little later this year.

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