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Full Court Press

SPREE SPEAK: Before last week's hearing in Portland, NBA bad boy Latrell Sprewell was in New York City consulting with union officials. While in the Big Apple, the former Golden State Warrior, who physically assaulted coach P.J. Carlesimo, met with NBC analyst and New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey.

"I wanted to face you man-to-man. I wanted you to know I'm not the jerk that you and everyone else has portrayed me as. Although, I admit I can certainly be a jerk," Sprewell told Vecsey. "I'm hoping for the best, but I don't honestly have an idea of what's going to happen. I'm hoping people can give me another chance or understand my position. I hope people can keep an open mind."I wasn't trying to kill P.J. Death threats! That's not the person I am," Sprewell said. "I was angry but I didn't mean what I said. You know how people say things they don't mean when they're angry. They say stuff."

HARD-AWAY FEELINGS: Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway and Orlando Magic guard Penny Hardaway are not related. And, now, there's some ill feeling between the two, at least as far as Tim Hardaway is concerned.

The Heat star is upset Penny Hardaway is returning from a knee injury just in time to start in the NBA All-Star game.

Penny Hardaway, who has been out since Dec. 10, plans to return this weekend, play in three games and then start in the All-Star Game on Feb. 8 in New York.

The move probably cost Tim Hardaway a chance to start. Tim was chosen as a reserve, while Penny was voted to the starting team by fans despite playing in just 13 games.

"I think he wants to play in the All-Star game more than he wants to play for his team," Tim Hardaway said. "If it wasn't the All-Star game, I bet he wouldn't be playing for another week or two.

"I bet his team is mad at him. He's not going to be right, though. If he's coming back to try and play just for the All-Star Game, I don't think it's fair to his team."

Tim Hardaway said players should be required to play in at least 25 games to start in the All-Star game.

PARTING WAYS: Mavericks boss Don Nelson said the team will likely say farewell to Dennis "Rage within me" Scott at season's end. After telling Scott that the Mavericks don't expect to re-sign him over the summer, Nelson and Scott's agent, David Falk, began talking to other teams to facilitate a trade before the league's Feb. 19 deadline that would put the free agent-to-be with a club interested in keeping him.

"Where our team is now, we'll probably not re-sign him as a free agent," Nelson said. "We're probably too far removed (from playoff contention) . . . there's too many questions to commit to re-sign Dennis here. We'll have to investigate what's best for him and best for us.

"Sometimes it's better to go to a team early than to just be a free agent. It's better to be with a team that is capped and can go over the (salary) cap to re-sign him. If we can find one of those situations, we'll talk about it."

Atlanta and San Antonio are contending teams that need a small forward with perimeter skills, but neither can offer the "younger player on the last year of his contract" Nelson is seeking. A more feasible destination is Portland, which had significant interest in reuniting Scott with former Georgia Tech teammate Kenny Anderson in September before the Mavericks emerged.

The acquisition of Scott in a trade with Orlando, featuring Mavericks' fixture Derek Harper, is considered one of the most controversial moves during Nelson's first year in Dallas. Mavericks' owner Ross Perot Jr. initially vetoed the trade in response to a controversy-filled summer that included Scott unleashing a profanity-laced tirade at a youth basketball camp.

After completing the Orlando deal, Nelson said he felt "very comfortable and confident that this team, because of this latest move, is going to be in a position this year to make a playoff run."

The 29-year-old, who has played every position except center for Nelson, becomes a free agent July 1.

"I know he's going to do the best thing for my career and the best thing for the organization," Scott said. "He's still my guy, and he always will be because he believed in me from Day 1. He's one of the only people besides my mother who helped me get through all that mess in the summer."

Sound bite: "When you sit in that locker room before the game you realize how powerful and how great these guys are. It's an honor to be part of it."

- Sonics coach George Karl on NBA All-Star Game.