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William F. Reed
November 11, 1996
THE KNICKS go on the offensive, Penny will carry the Shaq-less Magic, and Strickland triggers the Bullets
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November 11, 1996

Atlantic

THE KNICKS go on the offensive, Penny will carry the Shaq-less Magic, and Strickland triggers the Bullets

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1 New York
Knicks

START SPREADIN' THE NEWS: Center Patrick Ewing and forward Charles Oakley, New York's nucleus for the last eight seasons, find themselves surrounded by a cast of newcomers who give the team a fresh identity. Formerly bumpers and grinders, the Knicks gave some defense but loaded up on firepower by adding starters Larry Johnson (small forward), Allan Houston (shooting guard) and Chris Childs (point guard).

YOUNG AND OLD: Three first-round draft choices with star potential—forwards John Wallace, Walter McCarty and Dontae' Jones—add depth to the frontcourt. So does 15-year veteran Buck Williams, a free-agent acquisition. Williams will provide leadership for the kids and be a hang-around guy for fellow geezers Ewing, 34; Oakley, 32; and backup center Herb Williams, 38.

EXTRA, EXTRA: Coach Jeff Van Gundy has been pushing his players to sacrifice individual stats in the interest of team play. Case study No. 1: shooting guard John Starks, whose starting job has been usurped by Houston (page 106). What if Starks doesn't respond well to his new role as sixth man? That's the stuff of New York tabloid heaven and coaching hell.

IF THEY CAN MAKE IT HERE: Especially if Childs settles in at the point, the Knicks will be the conference's top threat to unseat the Bulls.

2 Orlando
Magic

THE UNSHAQLED TRUTH: Orlando is one of the few teams that can lose an All-Star of the magnitude of center Shaquille O'Neal, who decamped for the Lakers, and still be a team many foes will fear. This is guard Penny Hardaway's show now, and with his increased offensive load, expect him to challenge for the league scoring title.

THE OTHER GUYS: If the Magic, who couldn't win a title with Shaq, is to approach last season's 60-22 record without him, its new acquisitions—center Rony Seikaly and forwards Derek Strong and Gerald Wilkins—have to complement Hardaway. Even more important, hot-and-cold shooters forward Dennis Scott and guard Nick Anderson must perform as consistently as power forward Horace Grant.

PIVOTAL ACQUISITION: Seikaly, obtained from the Warriors last Saturday, gives the Magic a low-post threat in the middle to replace O'Neal, which is one more reason the Magic will still be a formidable team. But it's worth noting that Seikaly's scoring average has steadily declined from 17.1 four years ago to 12.1 last season.

WEATHER REPORT: Mild and mostly sunny, typical for Orlando, where Penny World, not Disney World, could become known as the Magic Kingdom.

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