(31-25)—Yes, the Bucks are the grand old men of the Central, but they're not exactly playing with canes and walkers. Terry Cummings turns 27 on March 15, Sidney Moncrief is 30 (except for his knees, which are 97), and Jack Sikma, rejuvenated by his move to power forward from center, is having what coach Del Harris calls "a career year" at 32. Harris moved Sikma because 7'3" Randy Breuer has improved so much at center.
"I honestly think we'll be as good as anybody in the league over our last 25 games," says Harris. "If I'm wrong and we don't close strong, then we'll be more aggressive in making postseason moves to get younger players. But we won't have a fire sale, I can promise you that."
Prognosis: Says Walsh, "The Bucks will be right there in the playoffs because they've got brains." Brains, yes, but not the legs to get past either the Pistons or Hawks.
(33-25)—Scott Pippen, a rookie swingman who was supposed to take some of the load off Jordan, has been playing poorly over the past month. He has had some back problems, but he has also lost confidence.
And at times Jordan has vented his frustration over the lack of support from Pippen and others. "It was a night when our younger players could have really made a difference," he said after he scored 52 points in a 104-96 loss to Portland on Feb. 26. "It was hard, especially because I had to play defense against [Clyde] Drexler [who had 42 points] and then turn around and try to carry the load on offense. There was only so much I could do."
Prognosis: Power forwards Charles Oakley and rookie Horace Grant must become offensive threats, and Pippen must regain his confidence if the Bulls are to catch the Pistons and Hawks next year. All Chicago may need is time, particularly if Sam Vincent, who arrived from the Seattle SuperSonics via a trade for Sedale Threatt, works out at point guard. Having only Jordan to go to at crunch time may be a limitation, but, as Harris points out, "it's a wonderful limitation to have."
(35-22)—As the 76ers used to gauge themselves by the Celtics, the Hawks now gauge themselves by the Pistons, who have won three of four meetings between the teams this season. The Hawks' shortcomings are readily apparent—they're getting very little out of the power forward and shooting guard positions.
Examples 1 and 1a are forward Kevin Willis, who was a terror last season, and Randy Wittman, whose hallmark had been consistency. The absence of key reserves Jon Koncak, who suffered a knee injury Feb. 12, and John Battle, who has been out since Feb. 9 with hepatitis, has hurt.
Right now the Hawks are nothing more than the Bulls with a southern accent. Their attack consists of Wilkins, Wilkins and more Wilkins. In a recent game against Detroit, for example, Dominique took 35 shots, not because he was gunning but because he was the only Atlanta player with a pulse on offense. He finished with 50 points and the Pistons finished with a smile. "All those points don't mean anything when we get the win," said Laimbeer.
Prognosis: Kasten has taken heat for not keeping up with Trader Jack. But he and Fratello have spent four years building this team, and ripping it apart now wouldn't make sense.