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Thanks to the Little People

As usual, the East won't be able to match the West's giant front line in today's All-Star game, but that's all part of fun, Carlisle says

February 15, 2004|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

You little fellows back again?

If the West has become the big man's conference, it never shows up more than in the NBA All-Star game, as it will again today when it will send out a front line of 7-foot-6 Yao Ming, 6-11 Kevin Garnett and 7-0 Tim Duncan.

Starting at center for the East will be Ben Wallace, who is 6-8, he says.

"It's exciting for me," Wallace said. "It's a challenge. It's one of those challenges I face every day.

"I'm capable of going out and holding my own. I think I've got the advantage with those guys."

How?

"I don't know," Wallace said. "If I find out, I'll let you know....

"I just try and stay on the side and try not to get caught behind either one of those guys [Yao or 7-1 backup center Shaquille O'Neal]. Because if I do, nobody would see me. They'd just swallow me up. It's definitely going to be an experience."

Not that anyone's listed height can be accepted at face value, but Wallace may not even be 6-8.

People from Detroit say Piston teammate Corliss Williamson, who may be 6-6, is always tiptoeing up to Wallace, claiming he's taller.

Nor is size the only problem.

O'Neal isn't the only one around who thinks he's the MDE -- most dominant ever. He and Duncan have won three of the last four MVPs and Garnett is this season's front-runner. The O'Neal-Yao-Duncan-Garnett combination is one of the greatest the game has ever seen, challenging even the Dream Team's David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird.

Results may not be overly significant in an event that's so casual, at least up until the end, but while winning the last five Finals, the West has also won three of the four All-Star games (with the '99 game called on account of lockout).

The West outrebounded the East by an average of 12 in those games. The East's only victory came in 2001 at Washington, when a Larry Brown lineup of four guards plus Dikembe Mutombo came from 21 points behind in the second half to win, 111-110.

This season's East team has only two centers (Wallace and New Orleans' 6-11 Jamaal Magloire), two power forwards (Indiana's 6-11 Jermaine O'Neal and New Jersey's 6-9 Kenyon Martin), four swing men (Toronto's 6-6 Vince Carter, Orlando's 6-8 Tracy McGrady, Indiana's 6-7 Ron Artest, Boston's 6-6 Paul Pierce) and four guards.

Guess what? They're not going to go toe to toe.

"We're going to play small ball," Coach Rick Carlisle said. "We're ready. We feel like we've got the best playmakers in the All-Star game. We feel like we've got really good shot-making and we're going to get up and down. We're going to try to outscore these guys.

"We're not going to pound them on the inside that much, but we've got some good inside people. This is a fun opportunity. The guys from the East are looking forward to it....

"It just so happens that a lot of our better players in the Eastern Conference this year were guards. [Milwaukee's] Michael Redd is a guy who's emerged as a star player. Paul Pierce is always in the mix and you've got [Jason] Kidd and Baron Davis. Artest is now in the mix at the small forward. We're top-heavy at the perimeter positions.

"I like our team. I like our chances."

The East wants you to know it'll show up. With tickets listed at $350 a pop, this is comforting.

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