It's Tim's Time
David Robinson's slump has prompted Tim Duncan to grab the reins
for the Spurs

For his first four seasons Tim Duncan was the Spurs' quiet man.
He was an All-Star who hid his emotions and deferred to his
celebrated elder teammate, David Robinson. Now it is clear Duncan
will defer no more. Although he will never be mistaken for a
chatterbox, the 25-year-old Duncan has been speaking up in the
huddle, directing teammates on the court and demanding a high
level of play from everyone, including Robinson, who is in the
worst slump of his 13-year career.

Robinson's numbers (11.0 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 1.88
blocks at week's end) are all down from last season. In a
five-game stretch last month coach Gregg Popovich benched him
three times for the entire fourth quarter, including during a
98-81 home loss to the Lakers in which Shaquille O'Neal didn't
play and Robinson was outscored and outhustled by Mark Madsen.
Rather than ducking the issue, Duncan backs Robinson's critics
both inside and outside the locker room. "If the heat David has
been getting changes his play for the better, it's a good thing,"
Duncan says. "Hearing it from other people--the media, his
teammates--can light a fire, and that's the best way to get
somebody rolling."

With Avery Johnson's off-season move to Denver and Sean Elliott's
retirement to the Spurs' TV booth, leadership is at a premium in
San Antonio. Popovich is glad to see Duncan asserting himself.
"David always led by example," Popovich says. "We're pushing Tim
to be a leader harder than David was pushed, and he's responding
very well."

Duncan resolved to sharpen his focus after last season, when the
Spurs won a league-high 58 games only to be swept by the Lakers
in the Western Conference finals. "I set goals to have the best
season of my career," says Duncan, who is putting up MVP-caliber
numbers. Through Sunday he was No. 1 in the league in rebounds,
(12.7 per game), No. 3 in blocked shots (2.79) and No. 6 in
scoring (25.3)--all career highs. He was even hitting 82.2% of his
free throws, up from 61.8% a year ago. A newfound intensity is
apparent in the way he snaps up a rebound or in the anger he
shows at his own mistakes.

Behind Duncan--and despite adding nine new players--the Spurs
jumped to a 20-4 start. They lost nine of their next 18 because
of a tough schedule, injuries and Robinson's struggles, the last
of which has drawn the most attention. Popovich says he has been
replacing Robinson with 6'7" Malik Rose in the fourth quarter
mainly because opponents have been going with smaller lineups.
There may be more to it than that. According to a friend of
Robinson's, the Admiral's relationship with Popovich has been
strained since last summer, when Popovich tried to re-sign him
for about half of his 2000-01 salary of $14.7 million, to reduce
payroll enough to acquire significant free-agent help. When
Robinson balked, San Antonio courted free agent Chris Webber, who
ultimately stayed with the Kings.

"I just don't think you can play anymore," Robinson says that
Popovich told him. Popovich won't confirm or deny that he made
that remark, but he did re-sign Robinson for $20 million over two
years and granted him a no-trade clause.

Many believe that Popovich benched Robinson to inspire him,
knowing the Spurs will have no chance at the title unless he's at
his best. Opponents believe Robinson's age and aching back are
catching up with him. "The Twin Towers aren't scary anymore,"
says Webber, "even though Duncan is." Says a Western Conference
coach of Robinson, "He's certainly sliding, and pretty fast.
Defensively he can still change a game, but the ferocity isn't
there anymore. On offense he's become an afterthought. It's Tim's
show now, and he's a one-man show."

The day after the home loss to L.A., Robinson told the San
Antonio media that it was his responsibility to earn more
minutes. In a private meeting with his coach, however, Robinson
used different words. "I told Pop that whatever the situation is,
I've got to be on the floor," Robinson says. "I feel as good as I
have in a long time. I just have to figure out how I can be more
effective for Tim and this team."

Robinson played better last week, including a 16-point,
seven-rebound, three-block performance in a loss to the Nets. At
week's end Duncan and Robinson were together producing 36.3
points per game, 20.5 rebounds and 4.66 blocks--not far from their
average production over the preceding four years (39.2 points,
21.7 boards and 4.79 blocks). Nonetheless, the gap between
Robinson and Duncan has never been larger.

"As long as David's mind is in the game, he's going to be a
force," Duncan says. "When we forget that we need to help each
other and push each other, that's when we don't do very well."

Anthony Mason's View
Bucks Have Outside Shot

Can the Bucks reach the Finals by shooting jumpers and relying on
their explosive offense to bail out their indifferent defense?
Power forward Anthony Mason is certain they can't. "We shouldn't
mention championships until we get a balanced attack and decide
defense comes first," Mason says. "I look in the eyes of the
other team, and I don't see worry. I see bravado."

Acquiring the 35-year-old Mason was the primary off-season
objective of G.M. Ernie Grunfeld, who had signed Mason to a
six-year, $25 million contract in 1995, when both were with the
Knicks. Grunfeld believes Mason's passing, defense and toughness
have improved Milwaukee without diminishing its fluid attack. "I
expect things to keep improving," says Grunfeld, predicting that
the Bucks, who were leading the Central Division with a 26-16
record at week's end, will also benefit from their remaining
schedule, which includes 23 home games and no Western Conference
road trips.

Through Sunday, Mason was averaging 8.5 points, his lowest output
since 1993-94. He insists that if the Bucks feed him in the low
post, he can either finish himself or draw a double team and kick
the ball back to an open shooter. To those who believe he's less
effective near the basket than the Milwaukee marksmen are from
outside, Mason cites his All-Star numbers with the Heat last
season. "We have the most talent in the NBA, but when you play
against us, all your scouting report says is, 'Stop the perimeter
shooting,'" Mason says. "If you wait until you're in a five-game
playoff series to get acclimated to going inside, you're going to
be getting acclimated to watching the rest of the playoffs on
TV."

All-Star guard Ray Allen disputes Mason's dire prediction. "We
could have won one more game last year and we'd have been in the
Finals," says Allen. "We play fast, unconventional basketball,
which is the right way for us."

Despite such disagreements, Mason wants to fit in. He says he
proved that by moving to Chicago in September and playing pickup
games with the Bucks in Milwaukee, even though the team didn't
clear enough room under the luxury-tax threshold to sign him to a
four-year, $20.9 million contract until six days before the
season. Mason also says he held his tongue about his limited role
in the offense because he wasn't in shape the first two months of
the season after missing training camp and he was wary of
furthering his reputation as a troublemaker. "People say I'm
disruptive, but I just tell the truth," he says. "I can be nice
and say, 'Look, sweetheart, let's try to get the ball inside.' Or
I can say, 'Get the f------ ball inside!'"

The Bucks haven't entirely ignored the 6'8" Mason, who at week's
end was averaging a team-high 38.2 minutes. He usually guards the
top-scoring forward, often brings the ball upcourt and has done
some damage of his own on the perimeter, where he and point guard
Sam Cassell work an effective two-man game. While coach George
Karl appears to agree with Mason, he is sensitive about upsetting
his team's "positive energy and flow." Incorporating Mason into
the offense will work only if his teammates make it work. "If I
force it on them," Karl says, "I risk sacrificing what we've
gained the last three years."

Still, in the second half of a 99-88 loss to the Sonics last
Thursday, when Seattle scored 18 straight points, Mason was
shaking his head and cursing as he ran the court. The Bucks, who
at the time were ranked fourth in the NBA in three-pointers, sank
only 8 of 28 threes in that defeat. "I like the way we play,
because it puts defenses on their heels," Mason says. "But have
you ever heard of a team winning a championship without getting
the ball inside?"

The New TV Contract
A Financial Gain, But at a Price

When the NBA announced its six-year, $4.6 billion television
contract last week, team executives applauded commissioner David
Stern for increasing their take from TV despite the league's
diminishing ratings and the lousy economic climate. There were
substantial trade-offs, however. The NBA acceded to the networks
by awarding them a contract two years longer than it normally
has. The market will also be flooded with 238 regular-season
games on ABC, ESPN, Turner and the new channel to be co-owned by
the NBA and AOL Time Warner (parent company of SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED). By comparison, NBC and Turner will televise 110
games this season. Will airing twice as many games make each one
less compelling viewing?

The average annual income of $766 million from the new TV
contract amounts to a $150 million gain over the current deals
with NBC and Turner, which expire this year. Because both the
current and future contracts are heavily back-loaded, NBA
officials admit the league will experience a one-time drop in
revenue next season when the new contract begins. Many team
executives believe that as a result, the salary cap may hold
steady or drop slightly for the first time, from its current
level of $42.5 million.

What that means is that teams like the Spurs, the Heat and the
Magic, which have been gearing up for the next big free-agent
class, in the summer of 2003, will probably have less room under
the cap to pursue an expensive star like Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd,
Antonio McDyess, Jermaine O'Neal or Baron Davis. Suddenly the
strategy of saving money to create cap room doesn't look so
appealing.

Play of the Week
Triple or Nothing

Trailing the Heat 95-93 with three seconds left in overtime, the
Cavaliers tried to win the game on a Jumaine Jones three-pointer
in large part because their center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, would not
have been available to play in the second OT. Ilgauskas, who is
supposed to play no more than 28 minutes per game because of his
fragile feet, had already logged a season-high 31. Jones missed
his shot at the buzzer, sending Cleveland to its 10th consecutive
defeat.

For complete scores, stats and the latest news, plus more
analysis from Jack McCallum, go to cnnsi.com/basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH MVP-caliber numbers have Duncan soaring as Robinson is grounded by age and aches. COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Mason believes the Bucks have no hope of a championship until they take advantage of his skills inside. COLOR PHOTO: GREG NELSON COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (NOWITZKI)

Around The Rim

After he broke down and cried upon hearing last Thursday that his
teammate and good friend Al Harrington would undergo
season-ending surgery to repair a torn right ACL, Jermaine O'Neal
had to pull himself together in preparation for the next night's
game against the Hornets. O'Neal did so successfully, scoring 18
points and grabbing 17 rebounds in Indiana's 90-81 win over
Charlotte. "I didn't want the other guys to see me being [so]
emotional," said O'Neal.... The Hawks lost to the Magic 100-86 on
Jan. 22 without seven players, representing $39 million of their
$50 million payroll, in uniform.... Here's something we wouldn't
have seen one year ago: When Kobe Bryant's number 33 was retired
at Lower Merion (Pa.) High on Saturday night, accompanying him to
the ceremony in suburban Philly were Shaquille O'Neal and five
other Lakers teammates.... Sometimes it pays not to be drafted in
the first round. Because Pistons center Zeljko Rebraca of
Yugoslavia was taken in the second round (No. 54 overall in
1994), he was exempt from the rookie salary scale applied to
first-rounders and was free to negotiate a deal, for three years
and $10.5 million. Rebraca's salary of $3.5 million this season
makes him the second-highest-paid rookie in the league, just
$200,000 behind the No. 1 choice, Kwame Brown.... Former Hornets
G.M. Carl Scheer believes the NBA won't permit the club to move
to New Orleans. Says Scheer, "I know New Orleans, and the league
knows New Orleans, and New Orleans can't support professional
basketball."

Scouts' Take

A pair--one from each conference--on their choices for their
respective All-Star teams, whose full rosters were to be
announced on Tuesday:

EAST: "Jason Kidd, the league MVP so far, and Ray Allen are the
starting guards. You can start the two Celtics guys [Paul Pierce
and Antoine Walker] at forward. Ben Wallace (left) is the
center--just look at his numbers [11.6 rebounds and 3.27 blocks
per game through Sunday]. My backups are Allen Iverson, Vince
Carter, Baron Davis, Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine
O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning. Jerry Stackhouse is the alternate."

WEST: "Kobe Bryant and Peja Stojakovic are the guards, Kevin
Garnett and Tim Duncan are the forwards and Shaquille O'Neal is
the center. My backups are Gary Payton, Steve Nash, Steve
Francis, Elton Brand--because I like character guys--Chris Webber,
Karl Malone and Dirk Nowitzki (right), who is the backup center
because there are no other centers. The alternate is Wally
Szczerbiak."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)