By Eric Neel
Page 2

My friend Dave, a cracker-jack editor here at .com, likes to drop a handful of hoops questions in my e-mail first thing in the morning. He's like the voice on the tape recorder to my Mr. Phelps.

Here's some of what he sent this week:

I see the Wizards are 17-13. Is my computer on the fritz?

They barely outscore their opponents and they have a lower shooting percentage than their opponents from both the floor and beyond the arc. Their "big" man is about as intimidating as Harvey the invisible rabbit. They've beaten the Nets three times and the Bobcats twice. Miami's dined on their innards on four straight occasions.

Your computer is fine. Give it a slap to the head and wait a while. (Check the March schedule; 10 of 15 on the road.) Should they make the playoffs (which is possible, in the same way that it's possible my city rec team could make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference), the Wiz will receive much the same treatment.

How do I tell the difference between Jason Richardson and Quentin Richardson?

First of all, let's be clear, neither one of them is Richard Jefferson.

After that, it's tough. They both rebound and score, they both play a little out of position, I wouldn't trust either one of them to defend a tree in a petrified forest, and my little girl dribbles juice down her chin better than they handle the ball on the break.

Q-Rich
Quentin Richardson has plenty of reasons to celebrate this season.

So I'll tell you how I do it: Q's the one smiling.

Would you want Artest on your team?

If I'm a player? Definitely.

You're the Heat and you can keep only one. Is it Wade or Shaq?

I'm going to assume you mean right this minute, with the balance of the season on the line. I'm going to leave out the youth and longevity questions (which would make this too easy; you have to take Wade and the extra 10 years), and I'm going to further assume you mean I have to lose one of them to injury, rather than in a trade.

In that way, the question boils down to its essence: Which of the two, on his own (by which I mean, you know, with Christian Laettner), gives me the best chance to win the NBA title?

It's Wade. More versatility, more gas in the tank, better flow and better free throws. Plus, I saw what he did in the playoffs last April and I'll be damned if I'm going to pass up the chance to see the encore.

So take the big fella down if you must. But allow me this, oh vengeful gods of basketball: Let me keep him in the gym, let me set him up at the door to the arena, maybe in a throne up on a dais, and let him work the room like a casino ambassador, let him spread the love, telling everybody not to worry, telling everybody this was Wade's team all along.

What do you have to do to get called for traveling in this league?

I don't get the fascination with traveling. I really don't. I'd rather see some stretch-the-boundaries creativity than hear a bunch of letter-of-the-law whistles. Leave anal-retentive officiating to golf and marriage counseling. Let the game breathe. The rules were written by flat-footed men in street shoes shooting at peach baskets hung by nails, for crying out loud. Do we really think the game we're watching now has anything to do with that game? Do we really think it should?

But to answer your question, to get called for traveling in this league all you have to do is tell Jack Nies you love his son's work on the "Real World - Road Rules Challenge."

LeBron James
Broken cheekbone or fan of "Phantom of the Opera"?

Is the LeBron mask a safety precaution, a fashion statement, or merely a marketing ploy?

Can't a brother love musical theater? I mean, is that so wrong?

Who is Beno Udrih?

He's Robert Duvall in "The Godfather."

Favorite stat this week?

The Lakers are 2-6 when Kobe scores more than 35.

Ricky Davis. Friend or foe of the game?

Friend, for that 'fro alone.

Will Vince Carter amaze again?

There are two models here: The Prince Model and the Stevie Wonder Model. In the Prince Model, the artist, once capable of real genius ("1999," "Purple Reign," "Sign of the Times"), gets self-indulgent and moody and loses his way ("Diamonds and Pearls," "Chaos and Disorder," "Crystal Ball"), but, in a moment of surprising clarity and somehow rediscovers himself ("Musicology"). In the Stevie Wonder Model, the artist, once capable of real genius ("Uptight," "Talking Book," "Songs In The Key Of Life"), gets self-indulgent and moody and loses his way ("Characters" and "Conversation Piece"), never to return.

I want to say Vince is Prince, but I fear he's Stevie.

Luke Ridnour is fifth in the NBA in assist-TO ratio, leads one of the top offenses in the league, and weighs about 160 pounds dripping wet. It's nickname time ...

You're a Sonics fan, D. Did you know the team was originally named (in 1967) for Boeing's proposed Concorde-style jet known as the SuperSonic Transport? And did you further know that, cool as the prototype was, said SuperSonic Transport was neither completed nor delivered to any of the 22 airlines who had ordered it? And have you stopped to think about what sort of impact a nickname grounded, quite literally, in dashed dreams and failed endeavors might have had on the team over the years? If they are named for one of Seattle's success stories -- the Space Needle, coffee, the beautiful Mt. Rainier -- do they maybe win both series from the Bullets, do they not lose to the Nuggets in '94, do they perhaps complete the comeback against the Bulls in '96?

Luke Ridnour
Young Luke is a master when handling the ball.

What does this have to do with Luke? Nothing, really.

Except that maybe you're exactly right to suggest more nicknames are in order for the '05 Sonics, precisely to counteract the dashed-on-the-rocks-of-history black magic the team name carries with it.

After all, the only Sonics team to win a title was full of nicknames ("Downtown," "JJ," "DJ," "The Wizard) and the last Sonics team to make the Finals was similarly stocked ("The Glove," "Reign Man," "Hawk," and "Det The Threat").

So yes, a nickname for master Luke ...

I understand he's quite devout. How about "The Apostle"? I know it sounds heavy, but he's named for one, and I read somewhere that his dad has said he truly believes God put Luke on Earth to be a basketball player. Plus, it echoes that old-time nickname feeling, back when guys were named "Preacher" and "The Iceman" and such.

The Apostle to Ray in the corner ... Good! The Apostle on the break ... lays it up and in!

Works for me.

How close will the Suns come to the Bulls' record 72-10 regular season?

Not going to happen. I mean, come on, they're already 27-4. The Bulls won 41 games before they lost their fourth.

Not going to happen. After Nash, they're too young, and winning is too new to them. They won't be able to stay focused. The 1996 Bulls were stacked with vets. Even Rodman, motivated by the chase for the record, was a leader on that club.

Not going to happen. The bench is full of so many Jake Voskuhls. The Bulls brought in guys like Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and James Edwards.

But John Hollinger over at SI.com makes the point that teams who start as hot as the Suns have just don't fade too far, historically, so even with the reasonable expectation that they might suffer an injury or a sinking spell, put me down for 63.

Right now, January 5, who are you picking to win it all?

The Spurs, same as I was back on July 19, though Brent would be the first to say I've been wrong about why, at least so far.

Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2. His Basketball Jones column will appear each Wednesday during the NBA season.




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