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NEW YORK — Just when you think Stephon Marbury might finally be maturing, he proclaims Kevin Garnett doesn’t compare favorably with Suns compadre Amare Stoudemire, who barbecued his former Minnesota teammate/best friend for 38 the other night.

“It’s like Michael Jordan and Mario Elie.”

Somehow K.G. took it the wrong way. “This is bizarre. Out of all the things, he’s got what, three kids and a wife, but I’m on his mind every day. It’s kind of flattering. I’m on his mind like a girl.

Time to go to commercial, but first a contemptuous statement from Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders: “Marbury has been looking over his shoulder ever since forcing us to trade him in 1999. For him to make that kind of analogy just shows stupidity. I think he knows deep down in his heart if he had stayed, he would have been an all-star player by now and he would have a gold medal around his neck.”

No argument there. Amare is creating so much havoc down low and gaining such esteem throughout the NBA, Portland bench decoration Damon Stoudamire has consented to change his last name.

While not prepared as yet to maintain Amare merits an All-Star spot in Atlanta, I feel he definitely deserves a bye for the first half of the Rookie-Sophomore challenge game.

Suns coach Frankie Johnson swears the 20-year-old Amare “is a man among boys.” Which is kind of scary considering he skipped eight semesters of college “competition” for a well-paid position in Phoenix to push around pros.

Fact is, Amare sure doesn’t look like a kid, he looks 25.

Earlier this season Darius Miles complained: “If (Dallas center) Raef (LaFrentz) gets $70 million as a free agent then (Clippers center) Michael (Olowokandi) ought to get $95 million.” My response: “Just because the Mavericks made a massive mistake it doesn’t mean the Clippers or another team are obliged to make one that’s worse.”

The Spurs and Jazz — not the Heat, contrary to widespread belief — will be the only two teams other than the Paper Clips who will have ample cap space to squander maximum money on The Candi Man. Of course, as we all well know, all it takes is one bungling spendthrift.

Naturally, Mavs owner Mark Cuban claims LaFrentz was a bargain. Why? Because, he says, the spongy center was in demand, that other teams, including the Knicks were ready and willing to invest more than it cost Dallas had the sign-and-trade prospect presented itself.

Wonder what Markie Mark is saying today? Following a 2-point, 3-rebound, 16-minute effort (all in the first half) by LaFrentz in Monday’s home loss to the Bucks, Don Nelson spared no feelings.

“He didn’t perform. I’m tired of hearing about confidence problems. He’s a guy who had enough opportunity to get his game in order. We need him to be an effective player and he hasn’t been. It’s that simple.”

I’m still groping for a more radical reason for Ron Artest’s recent nonappearance at his first rendezvous with the Bulls in Chicago since last season’s trade.

You can’t convince my cynical self there’s a flu bug strong enough to keep him bedridden in Indiana while Jalen Rose was destroying the Pacers with a franchise-record 25 fourth quarter points.

For whatever it’s worth, four of the league’s shoddiest franchises are being coached by its most highly compensated — Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, George Karl and Lenny Wilkens.

Then again, if I’m Wilkens, I’m in no hurry to get built-in-excuse Vince Carter back in the lineup. Truth is, he could be the first player ever to be deemed healthy and then be forced to get a second opinion.

Ten minutes after hurling a racial slur in Saunders’ direction following a cameo (no points, no rebounds, 2 minutes) vs. the Suns, Loren Woods was suspended for conduct detrimental to the T-Wolves.

The sub-basement center (35 minutes in the last 19 games; averaged 21.9 in the first dozen) is unhappy with his daylight and his parents’ choice of his first name.

The Bulls honored Scottie Pippen on Tuesday with a video tribute before trashing the Blazers’ eight-game win streak.

I was surprised to learn Pippen intends to keep playing for two more years, or until the Bulls honor him with a full length feature film . . . Last night Aff-Air Jordan visited Chicago and confessed, “It’s tough to play where they have a statue of you in front.” On the other hand, he admitted, “it’s nice to come back and see the wife and the mistress and to peruse the pending litigation.”

Former NBA coach Doug Moe on why teams don’t run: “There is so much money involved that no coach wants to be perceived as some schmuck who just rolls out the ball. It’s fear. Pure fear.”

The day after losing to the Knicks, the Rockets held a players-and-translator only meeting.

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