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Nuggets' Lenard ready to defend 3-point title



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Denver point guard has not played this year because of injury.

DENVER (AP) -- Count Denver Nuggets guard Voshon Lenard among the very few players who might actually give a hoot about NBA All-Star Saturday.

It's for good reason. Lenard tore up his Achilles' tendon on opening day of the NBA season. In the middle of intensive rehab, he'll try to defend his title in the 3-point-shooting contest tonight. It could wind up as his only real competition of the season.

"It'll be nice because I haven't been competitive since November," Lenard said. "It's nice to get out there, compete and have some fun."

Among those not participating will be LeBron James. The Cavaliers forward, recovering from the flu, said he isn't feeling well enough to jam in the dunk contest.

"I'm not where I want to be physically," said James, who is scheduled to start for the Eastern Conference in Sunday's All-Star game. "I'm dehydrated. I'm already taking a lot of fluid."

Disappointing cast

James' absence leaves a less-than-stellar cast for the dunk contest: Josh Smith of the Hawks, Amare Stoudemire of the Suns and J.R. Smith and Chris Anderson of the Hornets.

Lineups like that have pretty much sucked the life out of the dunk and 3-point contests, which used to be star-studded affairs but have slowly withered away.

The first dunk contest was held in Denver in 1976. The ABA, on its last legs, was looking for a way to add spice to its final All-Star game. Julius Erving, David Thompson, Artis Gilmore and George Gervin, among others, participated in an event that remains memorable today.

The NBA reintroduced the dunk contest to its All-Star festivities in 1984, the last time the game was in Denver.

It used to draw the big names -- Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb. But as time went by, players started passing up the invitations until it reached this point -- where the announcement of who isn't playing is bigger than who is.

The 3-point contest has traveled a similar path, although Lenard adds a somewhat compelling story line to the event.

Able to defend title

About six weeks ago, he started jogging and doing some jumping. He can elevate enough to take the 25 jumpers he'll need to shoot to defend his title and says "I've been shooting pretty good for about a month now."

So well has the rehab gone that there's an outside shot he could return before the end of the season. The Nuggets haven't found a shooting guard to replace him in the lineup and his absence is one of several reasons they're struggling -- 3 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot at the break.

"I can't put any time limits on it," Lenard said. "I want to come back, but I want to make sure I'm 100 percent."

Tonight, though, he will definitely be back on the court, and he promises the injury won't affect his performance.

"I really have no worries," he said. "It's just a matter of going out and making more shots than the competition."




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