Houston vs. Golden State: Coach George Karl of the
wants more ball-handling and floor leadership from Chris Mullin. We'll see if Mullin can give it to him and, if Mullin does, how well it will sit with point guard Sleepy Floyd, the Warriors' leader-by-example last season.
Former Warrior coach John Bach once said this about attempting to direct center Joe Barry Carroll: "Overall, it was like living with a corpse." If Joe Barry wakes up, the Warriors won't be a pushover for anyone. But their front-court doesn't measure up in this series. Houston advances.
Lakers vs. Houston: After handing out a $2.5 million-per-year contract to Akeem Olajuwon (for 12 years) and one for $2 million per year to Ralph Sampson (for 6), the
have very little room to maneuver under the NBA's salary cap. So they have almost no chance of bringing in the kind of quality guard that could turn them into the league's most dangerous team. In the preseason, coach Bill Fitch looked at "a cast of thousands" in the backcourt and ultimately didn't change much of anything. Robert Reid, Allan Leavell and Steve Harris are still there and will be joined by, lo and behold, World B. Free. Anyway, Houston needs only caretaker guards—until it goes head-to-head with L.A.
This will be no ordinarily terrific
team that the Rockets will meet in the Western finals. It will be a team with a mission. When Houston beat Los Angeles in the 1986 conference finals, A.C. Green was a lost-in-space rookie; now he's a seasoned pro who knows how to bang on the boards. So does forward James Worthy, who has gained 10 pounds since that series but is as quick as ever. So does guard Byron Scott, who followed coach Pat Riley's directive and improved his rebounding last season. The Rockets won't catch L.A. waiting at the launchpad this time. Lakers advance.
Lakers vs. Detroit—The matchup suggests a double feature starring Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas in both productions: Rich and Famous and Such Good Friends. It will be one giant photo opportunity with these charismatic bosom bodies in the finals. And don't think Thomas will be at a disadvantage in his finals debut just because Johnson has been to this round six times. Thomas is cocky, and so are his teammates.
But let's face it: The Pistons aren't the Lakers. Johnson runs the L.A. offense with a sure hand on the throttle and an eye on the road, while Thomas occasionally runs the Pistons into a ditch. Green and Mychal Thompson, off the bench, are more than enough to neutralize Laimbeer's defensive rebounding. Worthy is one of the few small forwards who can match Dantley point for point. There's no reason Abdul-Jabbar can't score when he wants to against Laimbeer. And L.A. has that secret weapon, Michael Cooper, who can cool off anyone from Thomas to Dantley to Vinnie Johnson.
Barring an injury to Magic, the Lakers will once again be drinking champagne in June. Let them uncork something from, say, 1969, that magic NBA year when a champion last repeated.