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Pippen back where he belongs: Chicago

He was introduced last, and the crowd greeted Scottie Pippen with a standing ovation so loud it drowned out his name.

As fans cheered and waved their "Welcome Back, Scottie" signs, he stood at centercourt with a grin, mouthing "thank you" over and over. He'd left almost six years ago in a breakup so bitter no one thought he'd return. Too many ugly words had been said, too many feelings hurt.

Yet there he was in the red, white and black Bulls uniform, back in the only place that ever really will be home.

"Yeah, it is amazing. It's opening night, and here I am back in Chicago," Pippen said before playing his first game with the Bulls since he and Michael Jordan helped the team win the 1998 title.

"I don't think it feels weird," he added. "In America, we forgive and forget about things. That's kind of the situation here."

Pippen was a cornerstone of the Bulls' championship dynasty, the Robin to Jordan's Batman. He was voted one of the 50 greatest players in history in 1996 and is one of the best defensive players ever. He's a seven-time All-Star and has not missed the playoffs in 16 seasons.

But while Jordan was _ and still is _ showered with love at every turn in his life, Pippen always seemed to be shadowed by controversy.

Now Pippen, 38, is back, after signing a two-year, $10-million free-agent deal.

"I realize I'm with some young players who are pretty much college students in the game of basketball," he said.

"If I can somehow help that, teach them in a way they can continue to learn as young players, it benefits them as a player and it benefits me as a person."

LEBRON WATCH: In his first two games, teenager and top draft pick LeBron James averaged 23 points, nine rebounds and 8.5 assists for the Cavaliers against the Kings and Suns. He'll duel No. 3 pick Carmelo Anthony on Wednesday when Cleveland plays host to Denver. The two last met Feb. 10, 2002, when James outscored Anthony 36-34, but James' St. Vincent-St. Mary team fell to Oak Hill Academy 72-66.

HOLE IN THE MIDDLE: Here's how bad the center situation is in the East: Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill calls the Bulls' Eddy Curry "the best center in the East." Curry, 20, averaged 10.5 points and 4.4 rebounds last season, conjuring no images of Wilt Chamberlain. Curry went 3-for-10 for nine points and fouled out of Chicago's opener.

LORDS OF THE RINGS: The Spurs and Lakers, who have won the past five titles, square off Thursday in San Antonio. For the moment, Los Angeles' additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton seem more substantial than the myriad moves made by the Spurs.

AROUND THE RIM: Vin Baker's comeback from alcoholism is off to an encouraging start. He had 15 points and five rebounds and received an ovation in the Celtics' opening win over the Heat in Boston. "This was the biggest night of my career, the best night of my life," Baker said. Even though he's being paid $22-million over the next four seasons, Alonzo Mourning, who missed last season with kidney disease, started the season coming off the Nets bench behind Jason Collins. "What matters is that I'm playing the game of basketball again, I'm starting the season again," Mourning said. "That's what matters now." Jermaine O'Neal has gotten over his anger at the dismissal of Pacers coach Isiah Thomas. He says he's fine with Thomas' successor, Rick Carlisle, despite concern about a rift. "It's old news. Spilled milk. Water under the bridge," O'Neal said. "I know a lot of people are worried about me and Rick getting along, but there's no problem. No problem. At the end of the day, he's a proven guy."

_ Information from the Associated Press, the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News was used in this report.

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