"We know we can press. We know we can run," says Stu Jackson, New York's 33-year-old rookie coach. "Now the idea is to take the next step, to get better in the half court, both offensively and defensively." It didn't go all that smoothly in the preseason, but change takes time. The bigger challenge for the Knicks, though, is to avoid internal squabbles that could arise over playing time, especially at point guard. Rod Strickland presents a formidable challenge to the incumbent, Mark Jackson. Jackson reported out of shape, and Strickland
started all of the exhibition games as of last weekend. Another possible problem area could be at small forward when and if Kiki Vandeweghe's back heals. Who sits? Kiki or Johnny Newman?
Over the last few years Milwaukee has been nothing if not predictable. Big. Tough. A little stodgy. Fair to middlin' in all categories. Suddenly the Bucks are different. A backcourt of Alvin Robertson, acquired from San Antonio, and Jay Humphries brings a certain mercurial quality, and Greg Anderson, also late of the Spurs, brings hustle and muscle, but he has a bum right knee that will require surgery and keep him out for six weeks. Perhaps veterans Jack Sikma, Paul Pressey and Ricky Pierce will feel inspired by the new blood.
Until they landed former Piston bad boy Rick Mahorn in a trade last week for some future draft picks, the 76ers didn't look like a playoff team. Philly looks a little better, with Mahorn giving the team toughness in the frontcourt and inside defense, which it lacked. Charles Barkley and Mahorn up front. Is that a referee's nightmare? If Johnny Dawkins comes around at point guard—if he really is a point guard—this team will be better than Milwaukee. If he doesn't, it will be worse than Washington.
In an effort to keep Chuck Person's talent and energy focused, PACERS coach Dick Versace named him cocaptain. Center-forward LaSalle Thompson is the other captain. Maybe the added responsibilities will help Person and Thompson, but the Pacers will make the playoffs only if second-year center Rik Smits continues to improve.
Without a dominating center—263-pound Mel Turpin is around, but he is dominating only in a doughnut shop—much of the inside load for the BULLETS will fall upon the slender but evidently expanding shoulders of second-year forward Harvey Grant, who, at 215 pounds, is about 25 pounds heavier than he was a year ago. Grant's weightlifting program began the day after Washington's final regular-season game last April. He should be able to get an early start pumping iron in 1990, too, because this doesn't look like a playoff team.
In the preseason, new coach Bill Fitch said that the NETS were counting on two rookie guards, Mookie Blaylock and Jay Taylor. Fitch doesn't like having to rely on first-year players, but with the departure of John Bagley (to Boston), he doesn't have much choice. Even if this young team responds to hardliner Fitch, which is doubtful, New Jersey doesn't have much hope.
Gee, here are two optimistic signs for the HEAT, the NBA's worst offensive team last season: Rookie sharpshooter Glen Rice reported slightly overweight and did not play well in the preseason, and second-year shooting guard Kevin Edwards went 2 for 24 from the floor during one three-game stretch. But coach Ron Rothstein wants to build Miami with defense and hustle, and the Heat should improve on last year's 15-67 record by seven or eight wins.
Rex Chapman, who never met a shot he didn't like, could play both guard positions this season. There does not seem to be a more unlikely match of position and player than point guard and Chapman. But even if he brings creativity there, the HORNETS need rebounding and defense to improve last season's 20-62 performance.