All-Star balloting ended with tight races for starting spots at the guard and forward spots in the Western Conference.
Eastern Conference voting is a runaway at the guard and forward positions. At center, Dikembe Mutombo has a 5,000-vote lead over the injured Patrick Ewing.In the latest balloting results, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were in a three-way race for the two Western Conference forward spots. Less than 18,000 votes separated the first-place Malone and the third-place Duncan.
At guard, Gary Payton is a shoo-in for one spot, but Stephon Marbury, Eddie Jones, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant and John Stockton were separated by a mere 19,000 votes for the second spot.
The starters won't be announced until next Sunday, and it appears that only nine of the 10 top vote-getters will participate in the game. The balloting ended Thursday.
Penny Hardaway of Orlando, second in the voting to Michael Jordan among Eastern Conference guards and holding a 58,000-vote lead over Allen Iverson, is expected to stay on the injured list until a week or two after the Feb. 8 All-Star game.
If Hardaway is voted into a starting spot, it will be a coach's decision as to who replaces him. That decision might not be made until game time.
The Eastern Conference forwards are almost certain to be Grant Hill and Shawn Kemp. Michael Jordan will start at off-guard.
For the West, it appears certain that David Robinson will win the voting over Shaquille O'Neal.
The coaches vote for the reserves beginning Monday, Jan. 26, and they can't vote for players from their own teams. They choose two guards, two forwards, one center and two players regardless of position for their respective conferences.
Those results will be announced Jan. 28 or 29.
These players are among the strongest candidates to be chosen by the coaches:
In the East:
- Center: Rik Smits, Rony Seikaly, Jayson Williams, Brian Williams, Alonzo Mourning.
- Forward: Glen Rice, Dennis Rodman, Chris Webber, Antoine Walker.
- Guard: Tim Hardaway, Allen Iverson, Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Miller.
In the West:
- Center: O'Neal.
- Forward: Vin Baker, Detlef Schrempf, Charles Barkley, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Garnett.
- Guard: Marbury or Jones, Mitch Richmond, Nick Van Exel, Kobe Bryant, Stockton, Kidd.
SONIC BUST: The Seattle SuperSonics entered the weekend with the league's best record, but their reputation was tarnished a bit by the way they finished their four-game Eastern road trip.
After crushing Cleveland and Boston, the Sonics lost to the New York Knicks and were humbled by the Chicago Bulls.
Rather than looking like an elite team, they looked more like a good team with a great record.
"We're still feeling ourselves out on the floor. We feel we have a long way to go as far as understanding each other, but it's masked because we're winning basketball games," Vin Baker admitted.
SHOT CLOCK TALK: The NBA is toying with the concept of allowing teams to play any defense they choose - even college-style zone defenses.
The subject was debated at the NBA meetings last summer, and it will remain an option in the future if the league feels it needs to make changes to liven up the game.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson, for one, would welcome an "any defense rule."
But he thinks offenses have to be given a break too, such as a longer shot clock.
"When you put a shot clock on it, you're putting a penalty against the offense. So there has to be a tradeoff to allowing any defense," Jackson said.
LUGGETS: The Denver Nuggets, who entered the weekend with an 18-game losing streak, are closing in on the longest single-season losing streak in NBA history - 23 games by Vancouver two years ago.
The longest losing streak ever is 24 by Cleveland (19 games in '81-82, 5 in '82-83) and Denver would have a chance to break it Tuesday, Jan. 27, at home against New Jersey. The Nuggets' best opportunities to snap their streak will come Tuesday at Vancouver or next Saturday at the Los Angeles Clippers.
STILL SCORELESS: There are four NBA players who have not yet scored a point this season: Sean Higgins and Alton Lister of Portland, Etdrick Bohannon of Indiana and Bob McCann, who was released by Toronto after playing one game.
Bohannon has had the most chances to break into the points column, playing four games. He has missed all three of his shot attempts.
Higgins is 0-for-5 in two games, Lister is 0-for-1 in two games and McCann went 0-for-1 for the Raptors.
Dontonio Wingfield of the Trail Blazers merits mention for being the only NBA player with one point. He has gone 0-for-3 from the field and 1-for-2 from the free throw line in three games.
Kevin Salvadori of Sacramento has the worst field goals per game average. He has made only one shot in 12 attempts over 15 games.
COURTIN' CORLISS: Sacramento Kings forward Corliss Williamson is in the middle of the best season of his young career, but the 24-year-old bachelor and father of a young son is lonely.
The team's flagship radio station often plays a promotional spot in which Williamson advertises for a wife.