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"My approach to beating Milwaukee is to concede that Jabbar will score, and make him the sole responsibility of one player, Wes Unseld," explains Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "I'd plan to control the other four guys. New York did that well last year."
The Knicks did indeed beat the Bucks in four of five games last year, largely because, according to Coach Red Holzman, "the personnel on our club blended well playing against theirs." But with Willis Reed now out with tendinitis, the Knicks have had trouble with teams far less powerful than Milwaukee. The Bucks do not play New York until January and, if Reed is well by then, it will be interesting to discover if the Knicks can repeat their achievement of being the only team capable of defeating the Bucks more than twice last year.
Former Milwaukee Assistant Tom Nissalke, who now coaches the ABA's Chaparrals, has more definite ideas of how the Bucks can be beaten. "There are a couple of things you've got to do," he says. "One is hold the tempo of the game as slow as possible. Maintaining discipline and refusing to fast break are important because the Bucks are a spurt team. If you try to run with them, they might throw the ball away 30 times during the game, but sometime in there they'll roll up 14 straight points on you, and that'll be all they need to win.
"I'd also sag in on them and concede the outside shot. If you sag in, Kareem will throw it back outside and you've got some hope. The Bucks shot over 50% last year, which was a record, because teams allowed them to get the break and shoot inside. And the thing you've got to stop at all costs is letting Jabbar roll into the middle for his skyhook. Block him—let him do anything—but don't let him have that shot.
"Another reason you've got to sag is because you can't possibly stop them from getting the ball inside. Larry Costello has devised a myriad of ways of getting the ball to Jabbar, so that there's no way of stopping it often. You gotta play it as if the ball is already there. There's also not much sense to pressing them. Oscar's going to get the ball up the floor, anyhow. The fast forwards might blow by you for an easy basket or they may end up with Kareem isolated one-on-one under the basket. All he needs then is a high lob pass."
Ironically, despite all the confusion he has caused, Costello remains unsatisfied: "We can play better basketball than we have. I'd like to see if we could put it all together. I don't think it'll be too long."
The Bucks did just that twice last year, once when they defeated Baltimore by 52 points and again in the playoffs, streamrolling San Francisco by 50. A few more such displays could clinch the title of Best Basketball Team Ever for the Bucks. But if they do it, there will be little else to conquer. The Dominance Index already shows that the Celtics, not the 1927 Yankees, not the 1941 Bears, not the 1955-56 Canadiens, were the best pro team in any sport.
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