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BASKETBALL—NBA: When Wilt Chamberlain ruptured a tendon in his right knee on Nov. 7 and underwent surgery even the most optimistic Laker fans doubted he could return. But with only three regular-season games remaining in March the Stilt was back in the lineup, and the playoffs loomed just ahead. Still, something was lacking. The Lakers, having adjusted to not having Wilt for so long, found his sudden presence detrimental to both timing and shooting. Phoenix raced to a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 playoff lead, and then things started breaking right. There was Wilt, scoring 36 in a 138-121 victory. Again, in a 104-93 win that evened the series, blocking 12 shots and grabbing 26 rebounds. His teammates were clicking, too—Jerry West, 12 steals and 35 points; Keith Erickson, 15 points and a key theft in a reserve role. The finale was a rout. Wilt, with 30 points, 27 rebounds and about a dozen blocks, combined with veteran Elgin Baylor (25 points) to spark a 129-94 victory. "Wilt turned the series around," said Coach Joe Mullaney afterward as the Lakers began preparing for the semifinal series with Western champ Atlanta. New York, the Eastern regular-season champ, toppled Baltimore 127-114 and edged into the semifinals 4-3. Then, despite a late flurry by Lew Alcindor (35 points), the Knicks dominated the boards and won the opener from Milwaukee 110-102. Superlative defensive efforts by Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed and Walt Frazier paced the victory.
ABA: On Dec. 11 Denver was floundering in last place in the West and threatening nobody. Then Joe Belmont assumed the coaching reins, and since that date the Rockets have soared to a 40-14 record, including a phenomenal 30-2 slate at home. Fittingly, the culmination came in Denver, where a 145-141 victory over Miami (the 16th straight on their own court) gave the Rockets a 4�-game lead and the division championship. As usual, it was Spencer Haywood who led the way, scoring 44 against Miami two days after a 40-point, 26-rebound effort against Dallas. In that game, a 152-113 laugher, the Rockets set a single-game rebounding record with 93. Dallas still clinched a playoff berth and moved into a second-place tie with Washington. In the East teams took turns knocking each other off as Indiana, Kentucky, Carolina and New York prepared for playoff action.
COLLEGE: Ohio State, only 17-7 and tied for third in the Big Ten, still managed an impressive finish in the NCAA statistical department. The Buckeyes established alltime records for field-goal percentage (.544) and free-throw accuracy (.809). Jacksonville, beaten by UCLA in the national final, averaged 100.3 points per contest to become the highest-scoring major team in history. Individually, LSU's PETE MARAVICH set a season scoring record (1,381 points, 44.5 average) and became the first point-a-minute career scorer in collegiate history.
GOLF—Green-jacket laurels awaited an 18-hole playoff at the Masters (page 14). BILLY CASPER, the third-round leader, was forced into a tie with GENE LITTLER when both finished Sunday's test at 279.
HOCKEY—According to Derek Sanderson, Boston's brash young forward, Ranger Goalie Ed Giacomin informed him early that "we're getting paid to get you and we're going to." Giacomin denied using those words, but whatever was said it helped turn the third Stanley Cup game into one of the most free-swinging brawls in playoff history. There had been bad blood circulating since the opener, when Boston got three goals from Phil Esposito, two from Bobby Orr and won easily, 8-2, in a game that saw 25 penalties and Sanderson exit with a flashed peace sign. The next game was calmer, Boston taking a 5-3 victory. When the Rangers finally won 4-3, breaking a playoff losing streak at 10, it took them three hours and six minutes, including 174 minutes of penalties, a dubious feat that erased the old playoff penalty record by 20 minutes. Sanderson and the Rangers' Dave Balon were each ejected in the first period, and even a fan got into the act by duking it with the Bruins' Johnny McKenzie. The Rangers kept moving and won the fourth game to tie the series. Overlooked amid all the sideline action in New York was Chicago's surge to a 4-0 series sweep over Detroit, all by 4-2 scores. Power plays marked the opener, but the Black Hawks needed a late goal by Pit Martin to break a tie in the second game. Two goals and two assists by Bobby Hull paced the third victory. The Red Wings, losers of only three of their last 19 regular-season games, fell behind 3-1 in the second period of the final and never recovered. In Western activity Pittsburgh beat Oakland in four straight games, while St. Louis held a 2-1 edge over Minnesota.
HORSE RACING—Horatio Luro, trainer of two Kentucky Derby winners and numerous other stakes champions, had had one of his leanest years in Florida, and his final season opportunity did not look promising. But ONE FOR ALL ($10.40), a loser in all six starts this year, salvaged things with a half-length victory over Snow Sporting in the $97,600 Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream. Craig Perret eased the horse over 1� miles in 2:26[4/5].
Hydrologist ($17.40), a Meadow Stable entry with Chuck Baltazar up, churned 1? miles in 1:48[4/5] to win the $57,800 Excelsior Handicap at Aqueduct.
SWIMMING—A bundle of young stars all but made national records commonplace at the National AAU indoor short-course championships in Cincinnati. After three days records had fallen in 12 of 22 events, with eight races still remaining. The pacesetters were BRYAN JOB, who figured in three new marks, and GARY HALL, an Indiana freshman who became the meet's only triple winner. Job, a freshman at Stanford, lowered his own 100-yard breaststroke time to 57.02, set a 200-yard breaststroke mark of 2:04.03 and swam a leg on the Santa Clara Swim Club's record-setting 400-yard medley team. Hall lowered his American record in the 400-yard individual medley while showing his versatility with victories in the 200-yard backstroke and 200-yard butterfly. Surprise winners included JOHN KINSELLA of Hinsdale (Ill.) High School in two freestyle events and 22-year-old LINDA KURTZ of Cal State Long Beach, whose first national title produced a record 2:23.02 in the women's 200-yard breaststroke.