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Tuesday, August 29, 2000

No hard feelings on the hardwood

  LAHAINA, Maui -- They are teammates now. Friends, even.

 Yesterday they sat side-by-side after practice, shirts off, Gatorade in hand, and broke down the day's battle.

 You never would have known that a little more than seven months ago they battled each other.

 Remember? Ray Allen vs. Vince Carter. Mano-a-mano. See it on pay per view.

 Just 10 days or so after Allen beat out Carter for what was then believed to be the final spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team, the Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks met in a back-to-back, home-and-home set.

 It was a script right out of Wrestlemania, timed too perfectly. For nearly 10 days, Carter and Allen had answered questions about the perceived snub. Allen was forced to justify his inclusion over Carter. Carter had to answer for being robbed of a place on a team he deeply wanted to play for. And the results didn't disappoint anyone.

 During the first game, in Toronto, Carter merely scored 47 points. He put Allen on the floor with an elbow to the face. Bruising Raptors forward Charles Oakley also put Allen to the floor as they dove for a ball. The Raptors won by five.

 The next night, in Milwaukee, Allen and the Bucks answered, winning by 21. The Raptors lost their cool. Shoving matches and technical fouls were as plentiful as jump shots. Allen led the Bucks with 33 points.

 And now it's all water under the bridge.

 "We're not enemies," Carter said yesterday. "We were always friends. All that stuff, that was just somebody saying stuff."

 Well, yes and no. Allen -- who, by the way, helped out at Carter's fantasy camp in Toronto recently -- said those two weeks were difficult for both of them.

 "I know it chipped away at our friendship a little bit because I think there was a lot of stress on Vince and a lot of pressure," Allen said.

 "The press made it worse. He had to sit there and explain why he didn't make the team. He felt down on himself. I was hoping it would make him stronger.

 "For me, I found myself having to answer questions like: 'What do you bring to the table? Why should you be on the team?' "

 Allen said he actually enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding the hard-fought, back-to-back games.

 "Stories like that are what make sports interesting," Allen said. "It's better than a game that has no significance in the middle of the season.

 "It was fun. Everybody thinks Vince knocked me to the floor because he was mad. I know he didn't do it on purpose. I was playing close on him, he followed through and caught me on the nose. The official asked me if it was on purpose, and I said, no, he just caught me.

 "Now, there was another time when Oakley robbed the hell out of me," Allen said. "He did that on purpose. He knocked me to the ground and I didn't get the call. That got me a little heated. I said, this has gone a little too far. I said, it's time to win, kick some butt and get out of here.

 "The next night, now, we're defending our turf. You have to go out there, play ball, give your fans something. I said to my teammates: 'Tomorrow night it's going to be a war out there; I want everybody on the battlefield ready to go.' "

 Carter eventually did get selected to the U.S. team because of an injury to Tom Gugliotta. Until then, Allen took some shots from people on both sides of the border.

 "A friend of mine once said the cream always will rise to the top," Allen said.

 "That's the mentality I live by. I don't let things bother me on the journey to success. I hear the negativity, and I'm still here. Through all the bashing I've taken from people in Canada and throughout the NBA, I feed on that.

 It's a rivalry we've created. Hey. I love Toronto. I spent about a month in Canada this summer (filming a movie).

 "(But) when we go to play basketball, I'm playing for the people of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, my family and teammates. I don't harbour any negative feelings.

 "When I play against Vince, I'm going to go at him and try to stop him. He does the same. That's the competitive nature.

 "The one thing I can say about the people in Canada is that they're patriotic. Vince has become Canadian to a certain extent. They wanted to see their son play for our country -- which is a little weird when you start to think about it. Because we're going to play Canada (in an exhibition game on Thursday) and kick their butts."

 But it isn't personal, understand. And this time Allen and Carter will be playing for the same team.