This band of overachievers has won 99 games the past two seasons, and if any team can sneak into the finals without a dominant offensive center, it's Denver.
Player to watch: Darrell Walker. Is there life after Hubie?
During an off-season wrestling bout with a buddy, Charles Barkley backed into a locker and cut his heel. He missed all but one of the Sixers' preseason games. Such was life with the PHILADELPHIA 76ERS, who spent their early workouts, according to coach Matt Guokas, "kind of flailing around."
The Sixers are at this point a collection of rich ingredients that have yet to go into the stewing pot. Will the addition of Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson from Washington, Roy Hinson from Cleveland, and Danny Vranes and Tim McCormick from Seattle produce a champion or an acrimonious battle for minutes? Julius Erving wants to go out a winner in what might be his last season. Point guard Maurice Cheeks ("The best ever to play the position," says Detroit's McCloskey) would love to make it happen. It could, but Larry Bird has another opinion: "Without Moses, Philly doesn't scare me."
Player to watch: Andrew Toney. Are his foot problems behind him?
Fans of the MILWAUKEE BUCKS all but laid palms in the path of Jack Sikma (see page 70) when he arrived via trade from Seattle. The only thing keeping the Bucks from a championship is a center. That sentence has been recited almost liturgically over the last six years, during which time Milwaukee has earned six Central Division championships and zero appearances in the finals. At 30, Sikma can still play, but it will be a different ball game for him in the more physical Eastern Conference.
And Milwaukee isn't about to move up a step unless Sidney Moncrief is able to move a step, too. There have been signs that the aching knees and feet that ailed him last year are still giving him problems. But if he overcomes those pains and if Terry Cummings, Paul Pressey and Ricky Pierce stay healthy, the Bucks have a chance to realize what many feel is their manifest destiny.
Player to watch: Scott Skiles. "If Larry Bird were six feet tall," says coach Don Nelson, "he'd probably be Scott Skiles." The rookie has a leer that will make Milwaukee famous.
Atlanta, L.A. Lakers
These two teams stuck pretty much with the hands they played last year.