As disturbing as the apparent suicide attempt of Dallas rookie Leon Smith this week may be the reaction of the Mavericks and their general manager and head coach, Don Nelson.

In an incident that raised talk about the trouble that can befall immature teenagers who make the leap from high school to the NBA, 19-year-old Smith, whom the Mavericks drafted out of Chicago King High School, ended up in the psychiatric ward of a Dallas hospital after intentionally overdosing on an estimated 250 aspirin last Sunday night.

Police and paramedics found him passed out inside his suburban Dallas apartment with war paint on his face. He later told police that he was an Indian going to fight Christopher Columbus.

Initially, Coach Don Nelson issued a statement saying, "Our only concern is for the health and well-being of Leon." A few days later, though, Nelson's initial concern seemed to change to regret for having becoming involved with Smith, who has spent much of his life in foster care after his parents abandoned him at age 5.

Nelson said he made a mistake in trading two second-round drafts picks to San Antonio in exchange for Smith, the 29th player selected in last summer's draft.

Smith's high school coach, Landon Cox, criticized the behavior of Nelson and the Mavericks.

"They treated him like a piece of meat," Cox told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Where they made mistakes is when they failed to get to know him and find out about the tremendous problems he's been through.

"They ignored them and refused to treat him like a human being. They never even called me for input or returned my calls to them . . . until after this incident."

Monster Mash

Former University of Kentucky phenom Jamal Mashburn has been little more than a footnote on the injured list--and on the trading block--for the Miami Heat the past two seasons. But now the 6-foot-8 forward is flourishing, in large part because the new, open-court offense is a perfect fit for him.

"It all comes down to running," Mashburn said. "By running, I think all of us are playing to our strengths. This really helps me out because I like to handle the ball. Scoring isn't the big thing for me. I can get the ball to P.J. Brown, Alonzo [Mourning]. I'm a playmaker."

Mashburn is averaging 19.9 points, the most he has registered since being dealt from Dallas to Miami three season ago.

Mashburn occasionally brings the ball up court. When he doesn't, he is the most active player in the half-court offense. On several occasions, it is Mashburn, not Alonzo Mourning or Tim Hardaway, who is the first offensive option.

"He had a lot of his game taken away from him by strong-arm defenders [during the past two seasons]," Riley said of Mashburn. "He's a runner, a driver. I think this suits him a little better."

Mashburn, who has averaged fewer than 15 points the past two seasons, also is healthy. A hyperextended knee, broken right thumb and deep bone bruise have limited him to 72 games with the Heat.

"It's fun for now, being out there healthy," Mashburn said. "I'm not thinking about any injuries any more. I'm thrilled about that."

Ewing on the Mend

Knicks center Patrick Ewing, out since Game 2 of last season's Eastern Conference finals with a torn left Achilles' tendon, participated in a 45-minute scrimmage Monday. It was his most substantial work since suffering the injury.

Though Ewing's return is up to him, there is some thought that he could be back by mid-to-late December. His arrival will be welcome. New York is 5-5 this season, leaving the team's overall mark at 48-48 over the past two seasons without Ewing in the lineup.

The Knicks are living up to Coach Jeff Van Gundy's preseason claim that they are not better with Ewing out of the lineup.

Pippen's Heat Stroke

Though Portland forward Scottie Pippen said he is happy where he is, he said again this week that ideally he would rather be elsewhere. Shortly after forcing his preseason trade from Houston to the Trail Blazers, Pippen said he wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers and his former Bulls coach, Phil Jackson.

After Portland's victory over Miami this week, Pippen said that he had another tropical destination on his wish list.

"I was hoping [Heat owner] Micky Arison would pull through to get me here," Pippen told the Miami Herald.