Carlesimo, Sprewell play it again

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In an odd twist to their ongoing saga, P.J. Carlesimo has come to Latrell Sprewell's defense.

In an odd twist to their ongoing saga, P.J. Carlesimo has come to Latrell Sprewell's defense.

In their first meeting since Sprewell's choking attack two years ago, Sprewell snubbed Carlesimo's attempt at a public handshake 2 1/2 weeks ago. The teams played again Tuesday night, and the Golden State coach said there would be no need for a handshake this time.

"People have boxed him into a corner. It's not fair," Carlesimo said. "If he feels he wants to do it, that's fine. But he's under no obligation."

Sprewell, for his part, said no handshake would be forthcoming.

"If it's on the court and it's staged for the media, it wouldn't be as meaningful or genuine as doing something in private. It wouldn't be a sincere deal," Sprewell said.

Sprewell, who received a mixed reaction from the crowd in Golden State last month, heard only cheers in New York, where he has become one of the most popular players.

Sprewell showed why early, using an array of jumpers and drives to score 16 points in the first quarter - two more than he had in the entire first meeting. He finished with 21 points, all in the first half, in the Knicks' 89-83 victory.

Before last month's game, Carlesimo had expressed hopes of talking with his former player, perhaps even shaking hands in hopes of closing a festering wound.

But Sprewell did not approach Carlesimo at midcourt before the game. He stayed beneath the Knicks' basket after the introductions, and Carlesimo finally walked back to his bench.

There was no snub this time.

"It's not important," Carlesimo said. "I think it's been dealt with. I don't feel like anything else has to happen. It's water under the dam for both of us. We have to move on. He's done extremely well. We need to do as well as he and the Knicks are doing."

Sprewell choked Carlesimo during practice on December 1, 1997. He lost about $6 million in wages while serving a 68-game suspension that followed.

He was reinstated after a long arbitration and traded in January to the Knicks for John Starks, Terry Cummings and Chris Mills. Those three will be playing their first game at Madison Square Garden since the deal.

Last season, Sprewell helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals and they recently signed him to a $61.8 million contract, marking a dramatic turnaround to a career that was near ruin.

Carlesimo's Warriors have the second-worst record in the league and his job is in jeopardy, providing bigger worries than his relationship with Sprewell.

"It is getting a little less but people will always link the two of us together," Carlesimo said. "It's safe to say that both Spree and I would like to put this behind us."

In the days leading to the first reunion, Sprewell had said he wanted to "crush" and "kill" his old team. He has been quiet this week.

After that game, Sprewell said a meeting with Carlesimo wasn't to be. But he suggested it could occur in time.

"I think if we saw each other, we could have gotten past everything, said hello and moved on but that didn't happen," Sprewell said then.

In that game, an 86-79 Knicks' win, Sprewell confronted taunting fans. He was fined dlrs 10,000 by the NBA for profane and vulgar remarks.

"They won the game and Spree played well," Carlesimo said. "People want to focus on the underlying side stories."