Actually, Atlanta coach Bob Weiss had planned to reduce Wilkins's minutes—and, consequently, his scoring average—this season in deference to his age, but, instead, Wilkins is averaging nearly 40 minutes and battling Jordan basket for basket. When they met on Dec. 26 in Atlanta, there was much on-the-court jawing.
"Hey, you're going to steal my scoring title," Jordan said to Wilkins at one point.
"No, it's all yours," answered Wilkins. "I don't want it. I just want to win your NBA title."
As Wilkins knows, he has almost no chance at the latter. And wresting the scoring crown from Jordan's bald head will be no easy matter, either. Though Jordan professes not to care about it, keeping his reputation as the NBA's premier point producer is important to him. More significant, Wilkins has to battle harder to get his big scoring nights than does Jordan, who is a better jump shooter and dribbler, as well as a steal-oriented defender who gets many more breakaway dunks. Even Wilkins says, "Michael will get it [the scoring lead] back anytime he wants to. Can't nobody stop him."
When Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice-president of operations, isn't reviewing game films to assess fines, perhaps he is watching Columbo reruns. At any rate, he sleuthed out that the Knicks, the Hornets and the Rockets had breached the basic bargaining agreement between the league and its players by practicing on New Year's Day.
Inspector Thorn had heard rumblings that a couple of coaches were planning to fit in practice sessions amid the bowl games in violation of the contract, which stipulates that teams on the road may practice on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 but that coaches may not call in players from their homes. And he knew he had to pursue the investigation when a tipster whom he will not identify phoned to inform him that New York coach Pat Riley had called a Jan. 1 practice at the Knicks' Purchase, N.Y., practice facility. Within an hour Thorn had his confessions, and on Thursday the NBA announced that each of the three clubs would be fined $10,000.
Footnote: The three teams that worked out on Jan. 1 all lost on Jan. 2. Is there a moral here?
The question for SI's first weekly poll of 1992—Which team has been the most disappointing so far?—brings no shortage of nominees. Among the NBA's elite, neither the Trail Blazers (20-11 at week's end) nor the Spurs (16-14) have played up to expectations, and against all odds, three of the league's four expansion teams, the Hornets (9-24), the Magic (6-24) and the Timberwolves (5-24), have been worse than anyone expected. But the clear winner in the voting of coaches and general managers was the Pacers, whose 13-19 record put them down there among Eastern Conference also-rans. That was not the way it was supposed to be for Indiana, which was expected to build on last season's solid playoff performance against the Celtics. Eleven voters named the Pacers as the most disappointing, followed by the Magic (six votes), the Trail Blazers and the Spurs (two each) and the Timberwolves (one). A few coaches declined to answer. "I'll coach my own team," said Lenny Wilkens, whose Cavaliers (21-9) are doing what many expected Indy would do. "I'm busy enough doing that." Among those coaches and execs who do have enough spare time to think about the Pacers, here is a sampling of comments: