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Leading the H.O.R.S.E To Water

By Matt Wurst,

Stampede center Lance Allred won the first-ever H.O.R.S.E. competition at D-League Dream Factory Friday Night at NBA All-Star.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS, February 15, 2008 -- This is the night dreams are made of. For every NBA fan who has ever wanted to see new events added to All-Star Saturday Night, tonight took us one step closer.

When the D-League announced that it would be introducing something original to its inaugural Dream Factory Friday Night at Center Court of NBA All-Star Jam Session presented by adidas at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, that idea garnered a lot of buzz. The game of H.O.R.S.E. has officially returned some 30 years after NBA players like Pete Maravich, George Gervin, and Rick Barry participated in televised games.

H.O.R.S.E. does not officially stand for anything, though it could just as easily mean Helping Others Realize Shooting Excellence. The game we grew up playing in gyms and on playgrounds all over the world, it requires creativity and some skill in order to make trick shots, and for the D-Leaguers who participated tonight, it also reqired the ability to hit shots under pressure.

The rules were relatively simple - two preliminary rounds of two games each played with the winners of the first two rounds competing in a final round for the title of H.O.R.S.E. Champion. Each round was be capped at five minutes and had a 24-second shot clock. All players wore wireless microphones to call their own shots loud enough for everyone to hear.

Featuring four of the best players in the D-League, the H.O.R.S.E. competition pitted Mad Ants forward Jeremy Richardson against Idaho’s Lance Allred in one first round matchup and Flash guard Morris Almond (on assignment from the Utah Jazz against Sioux Falls’ Kasib Powell in the other bracket.

Richardson, who was twice called-up this season, is averaging 28.5 points in nine games for the Mad Ants, is the most accurate long-range shooter after connecting on .409 (18-44) of his attempts from beyond the arc this season. That made him the clear favorite over Allred, a center who pulls in a double-double nearly every night in the post for the league's hottest team.

"I always knew I could be competitive with these other guys," Allred said. "I am not the most athletic guy in this league, or even the longest or biggest. So I always had to rely a bit more on skill and craftiness than others. And I mean scoring bank shots."

Allred and Richardson pulled out all the stops, calling bank shots, shooting from off the court and behind the backboard. The pair actually traded makes and misses and finished tied with H-O apiece after the five minutes were up. But Allred hit a 15-foot bank shot (he called it!) from the wing, which Richardson was unable to match.

So with one upset already going down, how would Morris Almond respond in the second preliminary game? He currently leads the league with a 26.4 points per game scoring average and recently scored a record-53 points just last month. Meanwhile, Kasib Powell is a forward averaging 20.1 points per game and not known for his outside game.

Almond, the only NBA-rostered player in the competition, made quick work of Powell, winning H-O to nothing. Their matchup featured even more out-of-the-box thinking... off-handed shot with feet crossed, a 360 3-pointer and even an underhanded free throw a la Rick Barry.

"I practiced a couple of those shots," Almond admitted later. "I didn't know there would be a shot clock, so I actually ran out of ideas there midway through the first game."

The winners of the first two rounds, Almond and Allred, them met in a final round for the title of H.O.R.S.E. Champion. but while Almond had done some practice earlier in the week, Allred was limited.

"I didn't get a chance to practice because I've been rehabbing my hand all week. I didn't get to work on any special moves."

So what would make the difference in the Finals? The NBA-caliber scoring guard or the hard-working big man? In the end, they both ended up missing most of the attempts they took, but Allred prevailed, H-O to H, by knocking down a bank jumper from the right elbow.

"This was harder than I thought it would be," Almond said. "You want to take more creative shots, but you have to take shots that you can make. So there is a happy medium in there somewhere. Yes, it's embarrassing that I lost to a center, but all white guys are good at H.O.R.S.E. for some reason, but Lance is a great shooter even for a post player, so it's not like I'm surprised."

One of the more vocal proponents of bringing back,'s Bill Simmons, was on hand tonight to take in the H.O.R.S.E. competition as well as serve as a judge in the Slam Dunk contest.

"I really liked it and I think it would work for the NBA if the biggest stars participated in it," Simmons said. "They figured it out as they went along and got more creative with it. I think it was a good first effort."

For the Idaho Stampede center, this has been something he has wanted for a long time. A dream come true, if you will...

"I have been playing this game since I was a little kid," Allred said. "My dad was not a fan of basketball, but that was something we could play together. So I've always loved the game of H.O.R.S.E. and it's great that they're bringing it back. I'm just sad that there was not an official H.O.R.S.E. game between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. That would have been great."

"Oh, and never leave the white guy open."