There is no such thing as a two-man basketball team except in publicity releases and Burt L. Standish novels. But if you were to have Jerry West and Elgin Baylor on your team, as Los Angeles has, you could be sure that everybody else would think you had a two-man team, and you would, too, if you were the least bit sensitive to statistics. Basket for basket, there is no greater pairing in pro basketball. When they are healthy and together, they are Blanchard and Davis in briefs, the highest-scoring double in the NBA. They are not big in a classic basketball sense: West is a mere 6 feet 3, Baylor is 6 feet 5. They just play big. "They take the pressure off one another," says Laker Coach Fred Schaus. "No one dares jam up on one, because the other will kill them. One helps the other constantly [examples: West snap-passing to Baylor, right, and action on following pages]. They are money players." In one stretch last year Los Angeles won 42 of 50 games when West and Baylor were whole. This year West has been out with a broken thumb, and Baylor has been slowed by calcium deposits in his knees. If they are back to their incomparable norm by playoff time, LA should still be best in the West.
STILL A RACE
March usually finds the National Basketball Association races all settled. The divisional leaders are so comfortably on top that key players are being rested and reserves given a chance to show their stuff before the playoffs.
Not this year. With only eight games left in the regular season, nothing is settled. Three teams still can win in the West; two in the East. Coaches are touchier than ever, players add and subtract their expected playoff money after each game, and the NBA owners are delighted with races that keep the customers coming.
Momentarily, the race is to the slow in the Western Division. The big and ponderous San Francisco Warriors are first because Wilt Chamberlain is performing this year as if he really were the best basketball player in the world (SI, March 2). They have a slim lead over the St. Louis Hawks and a longer lead over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Their injured 6-foot-11 Nate Thurmond and steady Guard Gary Phillips should be back in the lineup shortly. The Lakers are finally getting close to full service from superstars Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Even if they do not win their pennant they must be rated the divisional playoff favorites.
In the East, traditionally, the Celtics appeared to be winners by November—intimidating and running away from their opponents like a Ferrari in a field of Mini Minors. But even though they showed their expected early foot, the Celtics are fighting for their lives and reputations against the young and eager Cincinnati Royals, just a couple of games behind. In games between the two, the Royals have not been intimidated at all. They have beaten the Celtics six times in 10 games, prompting Royal Coach Jack McMahon to say wistfully: "I only wish we had more games with them." No one has talked about the Celtics that way since Bill Russell arrived in Boston in 1957. But McMahon's implication may indeed be valid: Boston can be had this year.