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Make no mistake—the Jazz will lay a lot of heavy mettle on the opposition this season. Karl Malone should increase his 27.7-point average, John Stockton (13.8 assists in 1987-88) should solidify his reputation as the second-best point guard, after Magic, in the West, and Thurl Bailey (19.6 points per game) should get recognized as the excellent and versatile forward he is. Moreover, the preseason reports on shooting guard Darrell Griffith—remember him from Louisville?—are promising. Plagued by foot and knee injuries throughout his career, Griffith has been a disappointment since he was the second pick in the 1980 draft, but coach Frank Layden hopes this is his season.
Unfortunately, the lack of a bullpen will eventually get Utah.
Yes, but that's not to say that Dallas made a bad decision in staying with the same unit that pushed the Lakers to a seventh game in the conference finals last spring. By increasing front-courtman Roy Tarpley's minutes while still keeping him in his effective sixth-man role—that's the plan at the moment, anyway—coach John MacLeod figures that his team can improve on its 53-29 record of last season.
But the Mavericks just aren't tough enough. Is center James Donaldson too nice? Is MacLeod too nice? Is power forward Sam Perkins, who has added 15 pounds of muscle to a skinny body, too nice? Is Mark Aguirre...well, you knew this would come down to him, didn't you?
Even if Dallas believes it cannot win with him, Aguirre is the kind of player who's hard to deal because of his reputation as a troublemaker. No team can afford to unload a 24.9 career scorer without getting something in return. Dallas will break down in the playoffs, which means that next season management will have to face some tough decisions about the starting five of Aguirre, Perkins, Donaldson, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper.
It will be the same old song for Portland, which will again finish second in the Pacific Division and get bounced from the playoffs. Still, the Trail Blazers shouldn't panic. The nucleus they have now is their strongest of the '80s, and it is young: guards Clyde Drexler, 26, and Terry Porter, 25, small forward Jerome Kersey, 26, and center Kevin Duckworth, 24. That leaves only the power-forward spot, which is adequately manned by veterans Steve Johnson, Caldwell Jones—who at 38 is the second-oldest player in the league, behind Abdul-Jabbar—and rookie Mark Bryant.
And what of Kiki Vandeweghe? As long as he is not having back troubles, Vandeweghe is valuable. But by the time the Trail Blazers develop a killer instinct to go with their running game—and that may well be next season—Vandeweghe will be onhisweghe elsewhere.