Coaches face tough decisions

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The fan voting might be over, but there is still plenty of campaigning left to do.

Phoenix's Steve Nash was not named a starter to the Western Conference All-Star team despite averaging 19.5 points and 11.7 assists per game.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Phoenix's Steve Nash was not named a starter to the Western Conference All-Star team despite averaging 19.5 points and 11.7 assists per game.

The reserves for the All-Star game will be announced Thursday, which means teams don't have long to push for players they think should be chosen. Washington will make its case for Caron Butler, Denver will remind people that Carmelo Anthony's good should outweigh the bad and the Phoenix Suns can boast of how many of them should be in Las Vegas.

"All 13 of us," forward Shawn Marion said. "The whole team should be there."

That's a bit much, but Mike D'Antoni thinks his club should have a strong presence on the Western Conference team that he will coach.

"We have three All-Stars on this team. There's no doubt about it and they all should be there," he said. "How Steve Nash and Shawn don't get in with the fan vote, that's still a mystery. But Amare (Stoudemire), Shawn and Steve, they've played about as well as anybody."

The coaches in each conference will vote for seven players, and can't pick their own. They must select two forwards, two guards, a center and two players regardless of their position.

Picking only seven in the powerful West isn't easy. Anthony has never made the All-Star game, but leads the league in scoring, and the Nuggets think that's more than good enough to give him a spot despite his recent 15-game suspension for fighting.

"He's definitely an All-Star. Any time you're leading the league in scoring, and shooting 50 percent, that says you're dominating the game," said teammate Allen Iverson. As long as he's been in there, he's been productive."

The second guard spot in the East that would have been Iverson's before he was traded to Denver went to Gilbert Arenas, who rallied to pass Vince Carter in the final days of fan balloting.

KOBE FOR MVP: Kobe Bryant doesn't necessarily have Byron Scott's endorsement for MVP yet, but the New Orleans Hornets coach thinks his former teammate should at least be considered on an even footing with other leading candidates.

"The thing that's crazy right now is he's probably playing better than he's ever played and nobody's talking about him as the MVP. Nobody," said Scott, who played his final season with the Lakers in 1996-97, Bryant's rookie year.

"I know Steve Nash is having another unbelievable season, and rightfully so should be probably the leading candidate again. Dirk Nowitzki should be up there. But there's no doubt in my mind that Kobe Bryant should be mentioned in that category."

Scott said he thinks Bryant has taken on some of Nash's characteristics this season, namely leadership and better communication. But he can still be an explosive scorer, too.

"He can carry a team on his back. He can beat you by himself. He's doing all these things, and people have chastised him over the years about him being selfish," Scott said. "Now that he's playing 'the right way,' playing like everybody thought he should have been playing earlier in his career, nobody's talking about him."

DEFENDING THE DEFENSE: Since arriving in Phoenix, D'Antoni has turned the Suns into the NBA's best offensive team. Now he'd like people to notice what is happening on the other end of the floor.

The Suns' defensive statistics are still close to the bottom of the league, mostly because Phoenix was so bad earlier in the season. The Suns surrendered 111.7 points per game during their 1-5 start, but lowered that to 101 per game while going 32-3 over their next 35 games to reach their midway point at 33-8.

LIGHTS OUT: Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan couldn't understand why anyone was curious about his players' midnight curfew on the road.

Sloan is dealing with a lot more young players than he's used to. And young, single players on the road tend to get in more trouble.

So Sloan put a midnight curfew in place for the Jazz. It was mentioned briefly in The Salt Lake Tribune this week and turned into a topic of discussion on the national airwaves.

"I don't know. Other teams have curfews," Sloan said.

Sloan issued the curfew after authorities investigated an encounter between some Jazz players and an exotic dancer who went back to the team hotel with them and claimed she was assaulted. Police found that there was no crime and no charges were filed.

But the "2:30 a.m." on the police report caught Sloan's eye and he mandated the curfew - the first since he took over the Jazz in 1988.

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