Webber yet to crack Team USA's list

Chris Webber's legal problems continue to keep him off USA Basketball's wish list.

Updated: April 15, 2003, 3:51 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein takes you around the league for the latest news in "Coast to Coast."

Sacramento's Chris Webber is back on the fringes of the MVP derby, in spite of the 15 games he lost to an ankle injury, but he's not back on USA Basketball's radar. Not yet.

Chris Webber
Chris Webber, right, would give Team USA more power up front.
Ongoing uncertainty about Webber's legal situation, as ESPN.com reported in December, has excluded him from Team USA consideration to date. Point guard Mike Bibby, as expected, was the first King to receive a national-team invite.

Although Webber said in November that he wants to represent his country, the selection committee has been reluctant to even discuss the idea because of Webber's perjury trial looming this summer. The trial is scheduled to begin July 8 in spite of the recent death of former University of Michigan booster Ed Martin, the prosecution's star witness, at age 69.

Legal experts have said the case against Webber has been weakened severely by Martin's death. It remains to be seen if Webber's legal cloud will lift in time for him to have a shot at making the national team, which is openly desperate for big men.

Even if Minnesota's Kevin Garnett accepts his standing offer to join the squad, that would still give coach Larry Brown only three established power forwards alongside San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Utah's Karl Malone. The Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal has already declined an invitation, so the selection committee -- given the complications surrounding Webber -- is evaluating Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal as a frontcourt addition.

Yo: Check out Yao's statistical surge
What wall? Yao Ming, if anything, is gaining momentum in his Rookie of the Year push as he gradually gets more touches.

December was Yao's best month (17.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game) but February wasn't far off and he's off to a strong March start, too. Yao averaged 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds last month and is up to 16.8 points and 9.0 rebounds this month through four games.

February was actually Amare Stoudemire's best month in Phoenix (15.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game) but Yao seems to be edging ahead in the ROY race. Unless your tiebreaker is making the playoffs, where Stoudemire and the Suns have the edge.

J. O'Neal sees 'similarities' between Pacers, Blazers
Comparisons to the Portland Trail Blazers, in general, are not welcomed. The Pacers' O'Neal, though, doesn't shy away from the link, acknowledging that there's at least one Blazer trait he wishes his current team could emulate.

Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O'Neal would like to see the Pacers become consistent winners, not whiners, like the Blazers.
"There's so many similarities (between) this team and that team," O'Neal said recently. "A lot happens, but they still find a way to win a lot of games out there every single year. Hopefully, we can get to that same point."

A lot is happening to the Pacers, but victories have become increasingly scarce. Indiana completed an 0-4 road trip Sunday with a loss at Sacramento in which O'Neal tweaked an ankle and Brad Miller sat out with a sore foot. The Pacers also played without Ron Artest, who was suspended by the league for the third time this season for accumulating his sixth flagrant-foul point Saturday night at Portland.

O'Neal has also been confronted with a difficult off-court issue -- the apparent self-inflicted shooting of his stepfather -- as has Jamaal Tinsley, whose mother is seriously ill. Reggie Miller, meanwhile, is merely in the throes of a shooting drought; Miller shot just 1-for-14 from 3-point range on the trip.

Since Artest tangled with Pat Riley in Miami on Jan. 27, the Pacers are 5-12.

Portland's problem? Strong second-half finishes
The Blazers, mind you, still have their own obstacles to overcome. Portland is a mere 8-6 since the All-Star break, which has the locals fearing a fourth straight late-season swoon.

In Maurice Cheeks' rookie season as coach, the Blazers closed the regular season on a 6-7 slide. In Mike Dunleavy's last season, the finish was 13-17. Both seasons ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Lakers.

The 1999-2000 season, in which the Blazers blew a 15-point lead over L.A. in Game 7 of the conference finals, Portland finished 14-12 after 45-11 start. The risk of repeating those fades is losing home-court advantage in the first round of this spring's playoffs -- or, worse, falling into another first-round matchup with the Lakers.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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