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Seattle vs. Utah: The SuperSonics will improve on last season's 39-43 record, yet they won't make it to the Western finals, as they did last spring. The NBA is now fully aware of what Bob Whitsitt, the Sonics' 31-year-old president, has accomplished with all his wheeling and dealing. He has put together a solid team and still has a first-round choice in next year's draft and three more in the following year.
Seattle's backcourt may be a bit thin, but its frontcourt is deep, with rookies Derrick McKey and Olden Polynice ready to back up forwards Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniel and center Alton Lister. The Sonics don't have Karl (Mailman) Malone, though, and he'll be the difference. Utah advances.
Houston vs. Portland: The Trail Blazers tried to do something about bolstering their center position even before Sam Bowie went down during the preseason with his fourth broken leg in six years. They made a move for Ralph Sampson, but Houston locked him up with a big contract. They also had a deal with Cleveland for Keith Lee, but it was nixed by the Blazers' doctor, who didn't like the looks of Lee's knee. (The Nets felt otherwise and acquired Lee.)
What's a team to do? In Portland's case, give the ball to Kiki Vandeweghe and Clyde Drexler, and try to get along with Steve Johnson at center. It won't be enough against the Twin Towers. Houston advances.
Golden State vs. Dallas: Mark Aguirre of the Mavericks came to camp this season at about 220 pounds, at least 15 below his roly-poly regular weight, after a summer of aerobics, weightlifting, swimming and running. Gee, could Aguirre's new attitude have anything to do with the departure of coach Dick Motta, with whom he never got along, and the arrival of John MacLeod?
The Mavericks will be very good this season. The intensity of playmaker Derek Harper, the consistency of guard Rolando Blackman and the size of 7'2", 280-pound center James Donaldson will keep the Mavs at the top of the Midwest Division and should get them to a playoff showdown with the Lakers, whom they defeated in three straight regular-season games last season. But there's usually one first-round upset. Last spring it was Dallas losing to Seattle. So...Golden State advances.
Lakers vs. Utah: After Malone threatened to play in Italy, the penny-wise Jazz front office gave him a six-year, $6 million contract and held the signing ceremony in—you guessed it—an Italian restaurant in Salt Lake City. The 6'9", 256-pound Malone, who says he wants to be a bodybuilder when he retires, is so versatile he'll sometimes play small forward in the Jazz lineup, which is well stocked with a bunch of gargantuan operatives.
Some observers wonder, though, how much Utah helped itself by acquiring 6'11" Dawkins and 6'11" Mel Turpin. The latter, in particular, is thought to need substantial playing time to stay in fighting trim, and he may not get it in a frontcourt that also includes Malone, 7'4" Mark Eaton, 6'11" Thurl Bailey and 6'10" Mark Iavaroni.
But there's a good feeling in Utah this season, and coach Frank Layden has an excellent chance of challenging for the Midwest title if he can sort out the minutes and egos. Of course, that still won't get him past Magic and Kareem in the playoffs. Lakers advance.