They're little guys who improved quickly after being drafted late, became millionaires and All-Stars this sea son, hate talking about themselves, seemingly make every shot they take and, most amazing of all, are still getting better.

Other than that, Mark Price and John Stockton are hardly alike.They meet tonight in the Salt Palace: Price, the soft-spoken, church-choir singer and deadly shooter who has helped Cleveland become one of the league's best teams; and Stockton, who may challenge Price for the most modest lifestyle of any NBA player, and would genuinely rather pass than shoot.

This is a matchup made for the NBA Finals, but that's getting ahead of the story. For now, anyway, we'll have to do with their twice-a-year duels.

While Stockton is a classic point guard who handles the ball on every possession, Price looks more for his shot, spotting up and coming off screens as he shares the ballhandling with Ron Harper.

"I've never been what you'd call a true point guard, in the sense of a John Stockton or Isiah Thomas," Price said during the All-Star weekend. "I'm learning to see the floor much better."

After racking up a career-high 18 assists against New York last month, Price said, "I feel just like John Stockton."

The proof of their varying roles is in 3-point shooting - Price is a constant threat, while Stockton takes the shot usually only as a last resort and had made fewer threes this season than Manute Bol, for instance. "It sets up his whole game," Stockton notes of Price. "It's my way of keeping people honest - with him, it's a serious weapon."

While Stockton leads the Jazz fast break and drives to the basket, Price presents another kind of defensive challenge. By moving without the ball into his shooting spots, he'll keep Stockton from roaming for steals and looking to help inside.

Their personalities, meanwhile, seem almost exactly the same. Obviously unaffected by their new contracts, they're quietly very confident and just keep improving. "You get the feeling they're not going to step back, or they haven't peaked," said Scott Layden, the Jazz's director of player personnel.

While Stockton's rise from his discovery at Gonzaga University is a local legend by now, Price is an even more unlikely All-Star. He lasted through the first round of the 1986 NBA draft, when Cleveland took Brad Daugherty and Harper, but Barry Hecker figured out a way to grab him as the second round opened. Hecker, helping run the Cavaliers' draft before general manager Wayne Embry was hired, had Dallas take Price and immediately send him to Cleveland.

Curiously, Embry, still working for Indiana, had called Dallas just moments after Hecker, trying to arrange the same deal for the Pacers.

Hecker, the Salt Lake resident who's now the Clippers' director of scouting, must have known what Price would become, right? "I don't think anybody did," he says.

In a rookie season interrupted by an appendectomy, Price was unspectacular. He shot only 41 percent from the field, hardly a sign of things to come. Just like Stockton did last season, Price improved his shooting dramatically and played well enough to convince the Cavs to include point guard Kevin Johnson in the big trade that brought Larry Nance from Phoenix.

Cleveland also never hesitated in keeping Price last summer, matching Washington's five-year, $5 million free-agent offer sheet. "I can't go out thinking I have to prove I'm worth a million dollars," Price told the Los Angeles Times. "I've played pretty well this season, but I only know one way to play. I can't change that, no matter what I'm paid."

Same for Stockton, who was, no doubt, helped by Price's contract in his talks with the Jazz that resulted in an eight-year agreement, just before the All-Star break. After a slow start, Stockton is back among the NBA's top 10 shooters, approaching his remarkable 57-percent mark of last season, and is only slightly behind his NBA season-record assists pace.

Tonight, Price and Stockton will try to do to each other what they did to Golden State last week. Facing the Warriors back to back, Price had 37 points and Stockton followed with 23 points and 15 assists. No wonder Golden State Coach Don Nelson was saying afterward, "Actually, they're very similar." No doubt, the results are the same, even if the methods are a little different.