In Basketball, Long-Distance Heaves May Not Always Be Long Shots

ON a recent TNT basketball telecast, analyst Danny Ainge said some players don't like throwing up long, last-second shots because it lowers their shooting percentage. Ainge should know, having played 14 National Basketball Association seasons for four teams - Boston, Sacramento, Portland, and Phoenix. On one hand, Ainge's observation is revealing. On the other, it is ironic given practically nightly footage of long-distance bull's-eyes at all levels of the game

If desperation heaves are truly going in the basket more often, there may be several reasons, including stronger players and the growing sense (from video highlights) that every shot is makeable. Few superlong shots ever decide the game, but one that did provided a dramatic conclusion to the University of Arizona's recent 79-76 upset victory over Cincinnati. Miles Simon banked in a 65-footer at the buzzer after taking one dribble. The court is 94 feet long.

Will Wayne Gretzky sing with the Blues?

ST. LOUIS has long been a good hockey town, a fact indirectly reflected in the National Basketball Association's long absence from the city. But while its citizens have been supportive, the Blues have never won a Stanley Cup championship, despite coming close during three successive appearances in the finals, beginning in 1968. (They lost to Montreal twice, and once to Boston.)

This week St. Louis is abuzz with talk of getting hockey's Great One, all-time National Hockey League scoring leader Wayne Gretzky, in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. L.A. risks losing Gretzky without compensation if they do not deal him by the March 20 trading deadline. He becomes a free agent at season's end.

If the trade goes through, the Blues presumably would be a more potent team (26-24-11 at press time), with a shot at the Stanley Cup. Gretzky has only 15 goals in 61 games, though, well below the pace he once established. He could bring a championship aura to St. Louis, however, and that might be worth the millions he demands in salary.

Magic wants Olympics encore

MAGIC Johnson's desire to play on the United States Olympic basketball team, as he did on the 1992 Dream Team, could become the year's most debated selection decision - and not because he has tested HIV positive, which occurred before the last Olympics.

Do you send Johnson, a super ambassador and superb team player, to Atlanta, or do you reward a younger player who has paid his dues and now figures it's his turn for Olympic glory? That's the decision members of the USA Basketball Committee, which handles the selections, must make. Two roster spots have been left open for late additions after the National Basketball Association's regular season ends.

Michael Jordan, who played for the US in 1984 and 1992, has decided he's seen enough of Olympic competition and is willing to give somebody else - perhaps Jason Kidd, Mitch Richmond, or Shawn Kemp - a turn.

The roster, however, will be loaded with repeaters. David Robinson, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Scottie Pippen earned their Olympic wings in 1992. (Robinson was on the 1988 Olympic team as well.)

Johnson has said he doesn't want to make the team as a goodwill case or because he's good for the game. ''I want to make it because I can still get out there and still do my thing,'' he says.

Johnson has gained a wealth of international playing experience in recent years while touring overseas with a team he assembled after retiring from the NBA in 1991. Earlier this month he dramatically ended his NBA retirement to rejoin the Los Angeles Lakers. A heavier Johnson has switched from guard to power forward, which could help his Olympic prospects since Karl Malone is the only power forward named to the US team so far.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: If the University of Massachusetts or the University of Connecticut should win this season's men's collegiate basketball championship, it would be only the second time a New England school has won the National Collegiate Athletic Association title. What Massachusetts school won in 1947? (Answer below.)

* Do figure skating and country music mix? The answer may come in 1997 when the United States Figure Skating Championships will be held in Nashville, Tenn., the home of Opryland entertainment complex. To help ensure a warm audience reception, some athletes might be tempted to skate to country music.

* Quiz answer: Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

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