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Jack McCallum
March 14, 1988
The Central's six tough teams constitute one of the best divisions ever in the NBA
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March 14, 1988

A Division Of Powers

The Central's six tough teams constitute one of the best divisions ever in the NBA

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Clearly, the Central Division is not a place for love-ins. The Hawks don't like the Pistons very much. The Bulls don't like the Pistons very much. The Bucks don't like the Pistons very much. Zebras don't always like the Pistons very much. In a Feb. 19 game at Milwaukee, Steve Javie and Darell Garretson whistled seven technicals on the charmers from Motown. Do you detect a pattern here? "I can't think of anyone in the league who respects them," says Corzine, referring to the Pistons.

Says Detroit center Bill Laimbeer with a big smile, "Gee, I don't understand that. We respect ourselves very much."

Milwaukee and Chicago have a spirited rivalry, too, as do Atlanta and Indiana. After throwing elbows at Wilkins and his teammate, guard Randy Wittman, during a Feb. 23 game at the Omni, Person walked into the Hawks' locker room and said, "Nothing personal." Responded Wittman, "Get the——out of here."

John Lucas, Milwaukee's veteran playmaker, sums up the Central thusly: "It's like the Black-and-Blue Division [ NFC Central] in the NFL. We're relieved when we play teams outside this division."

With the NBA season winding down, the Centralians are looking to the playoffs to see just how strong they are and what influence they can have on the championship pairings. Here's a look at the division, from the bottom to the top:

6. CLEVELAND (28-31 at week's end)—The trade for Nance demonstrates that Embry is hardly taking a cavalier attitude toward his club. "The addition of Larry certainly won't take us to the top right away," he says. "There are other things to be done. But we want to be the NBA champions, and this was another step in that direction."

Prognosis: The Cavs survived a dismal start when Ron Harper, their sensational rookie guard of last season, missed 24 games with an ankle injury. This is an Embry-o of a team that will need time to adjust to the talented Nance. Fratello and Ramsay both suggest that Cleveland will miss West's defense and posting-up strength. Perhaps. But if Wilkens finds a way to coordinate all the pieces of a potentially potent offense, the Cavs could move past the Pacers, Bulls and Bucks next season.

5. INDIANA (29-29)—Walsh has never regretted the day in 1965, when, fresh out of the University of North Carolina Law School, he turned down an offer from the New York law firm of Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell to accept a graduate-assistant coaching position under Tar Heel coach Dean Smith. Nor does he regret two other major decisions that he made years later, in the summer of 1986: to draft Person and hire Ramsay, who were the main reasons that the Pacers won 41 games last season.

This season has been decidedly less uplifting for Indiana, however. Ramsay has criticized Person's lack of defensive intensity and his tendency on offense to rely on jump shots instead of going to the basket. Vern Fleming is an adequate point guard, perhaps even an underrated one, but that's about all. Ditto center Steve Stipanovich and the shooting-guard tandem of rookie Reggie Miller and veteran John Long. And is power forward Wayman Tisdale the type of player to build an offense around? "I'm reluctant to trade Wayman because, frankly, I don't know how good he's going to be," says Walsh.

Prognosis: The Pacers may need to make a major move to keep pace in the ultracompetitive Central.

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