The small, the mediocre, the East: Yes, we're still waiting for the turnaround that David Stern assures us should be along any day.

Stern, the traditionalist with the bad ratings, still pooh-poohs suggestions that he seed the final four teams. However, it's interesting that he just added two more games to the first round, perhaps to make up for the two he has lost in the Finals.

You remember the NBA Finals? They used to be the best-of-seven series, but now it doesn't come to that. Now we think of it as a series in which the over/under is five games.

Since the Chicago Bulls' run ended in 1998, the West has won all four, 4-1, 4-2, 4-1 and 4-0, with TV ratings just above what they'd get for a test pattern.

Back in Smallville, they don't like hearing what smurfs they are. Indiana Pacers President Donnie Walsh insists it isn't really a mismatch, it's just that nobody could match up to the Los Angeles Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal.

Of course, that may not be the East's problem this spring.

Things started to look exciting this season when the East jumped to a fast start. Three weeks into the season, the Junior Circuit was 10 games over .500, which was fairly startling, since it was 54 under last season.

Of course, form and the West began reasserting themselves and there went the excitement.

The Little People started this weekend almost 50 games under. Before Friday's games, the best record any East team had against the West was the New Orleans Hornets's 15-11. Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks were 22-4 against the East, the Sacramento Kings 16-6, the San Antonio Spurs 16-5 and the Portland Trail Blazers 18-7.

But perhaps this is a statistical anomaly. Let's see where all the best big players are.

Oh, the West?

One conference has Shaq, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki, Karl Malone, Rasheed Wallace, Yao Ming, Elton Brand, Michael Olowokandi, David Robinson, Vlade Divac and Amare Stoudemire.

The other started Ben Wallace, who has to comb his hair out and put a headband around it to reach his listed 6 feet 9 at center in the All-Star Game.

Before 1996, O'Neal was back there, and East general managers made it their business to stock big guys. The Pacers started a front line of 7-4 Rik Smits, 6-11 Dale Davis and 6-10 Derrick McKey, backed by 6-9 Antonio Davis and 6-9 Sam Perkins.

Then Shaq signed with the Lakers, the Washington Wizards gave away Rasheed Wallace and Webber, Alonzo Mourning got sick, Patrick Ewing got old and before the West knew it, it had Miniature Conference and was starting Walter McCarty, Shawn Kemp, Derrick Coleman, Jelani McCoy, Dan Gadzuric and Jason Collins at center.

It's a Joke, Really

Trouble in paradise: After Sacramento's Vlade Divac and Webber joked they would pay Kings fans to get on their buddy, Jon Barry, who was returning as a Detroit Piston, the fans booed every time he touched the ball last week. Scot Pollard, doing a radio interview at halftime, called the fans "morons," tore off his headset and stomped off, starting a new controversy.

Wrote a fan named Dennis Socha to the Sacramento Bee: "It also makes me wonder if Phil Jackson wasn't half right about our level of sophistication here in the valley. That [joking about booing Barry] is like daring your dumb cousin to lick the eggbeater while it's still on."

Half right?

Knicks' True Intentions

The New York Knicks weren't happy to hear Ewing wanted to bring former Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts, former general manager Ernie Grunfeld and former coach Jeff Van Gundy to his number retirement ceremonies last week at the Garden. After callers burned up WFAN's lines in support of the old regime, the Knicks said fine, claiming that had been their intent all along. . . .

Gilbert Arenas, the Golden State Warriors' emerging star, upset at Antawn Jamison's complaint about not getting the ball, took one shot the first three quarters at New York last week, then scored 14 points in the fourth. "Gilbert is an enigma, even to himself," said teammate Adonal Foyle. "He has the ability to do anything he wants on the court. He can turn it on any time. As to why he didn't shoot for three quarters, I couldn't tell you what was going on in his head.