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It may take longer than that to unravel the Laker problems on the floor. In one sense, Los Angeles was well pre-pared to face the Celtics and Knicks. Sharman has added Scout Bill Bertka to his staff, and Bertka will hold a briefing before the team's initial game with each opponent this year. As the players filed into a conference room in the Sheraton-Boston Hotel to hear the scout's assessment of the Celts, each was handed a five-page report covered with closely typed text and 46 diagrams.
"When you gonna give us the speed-reading course to go along with this?" asked Wilt.
West quickly came to the part on how to stop Boston's fast break. "Hey, it says here we should molest their re-bounder," he announced. "Who gets to do that? Who wants to do that?"
A chalk talk was followed by a film showing the Celtics at their best: Boston's opponents scored one basket while the few Celtic misses were followed by crashing offensive rebounds. "Hey, my man, I don't know if I'm quite ready for this stuff," said Chamberlain.
Wilt and his teammates were not. There are already three hockey teams playing at Boston Garden this winter, and Celt Coach Tom Heinsohn seems to be trying to make it four. His players hardly could have moved any faster on skates. The Boston running game, which the Lakers like to say is second only to their own, produced 18 points as the Celtics opened a 25-point lead during the first half. Los Angeles scored only six fast-break points.
While the addition of Paul Silas and the versatility of John Havlicek allowed Heinsohn the depth and flexibility to substitute as freely as the Boston Bruins do, the Lakers clearly missed the pullup jump shots of Goodrich. They also missed Wilt's presence as the dominator of a game, even though he played 44 minutes. He was outscored 26-15 by Boston's mobile Dave Cowens, outrebounded 24-12 and outmaneuvered as he pursued Cowens outside while other lively Celts drove inside. Boston won 112-104, with West's 17-point fourth quarter making the score far closer than the game ever was.
"I'm in good shape," said Wilt. "I played volleyball almost every day this summer, some days two or three times. But it's not the same as basketball. We're missing two things. I haven't played with our guys, so we miss togetherness on defense, and my timing's off, way off. I'm not getting up for rebounds quick enough and when I'm out a bit trying to guard someone like Cowens. I'm not able to shift back fast enough to cut off the drive by other guys. Cowens and Jerry Lucas are the worst two centers for me to play against until I get my sense of timing back."
The next night in New York, Lucas proved Chamberlain right. Starting as pivotman once again while Willis Reed remains on the disabled list with his still-injured leg, Lucas outscored Wilt 26-16 with his long, shotput jumpers. When Chamberlain came out to guard Lucas, the quick-passing Knicks found open shots near the basket. Many of those shots came from Bill Bradley, who scored 29 points and, surprisingly, led New York scorers after three games with a 25.3 average.
"Concentration is what we lack," said West after the 125-100 rout. "Our training was disjointed: it was too easy and now the other teams are sky-high trying to knock off the champs."
The huge crowds in Boston and New York found the one-sided victories against last season's champions so encouraging that both groups broke into that irksome new tradition of yelling, "We're No. 1," as the home teams ran out their easy wins. Those chants and counter-chants should make for interesting debates in the Atlantic Division all season long, but for Laker fans there figures to be something of a letdown. Until Wilt recovers his timing and Goodrich returns to the lineup, Los Angelenos may only be able to cry, "We're No. 3." Which is exactly where the disguised Lakers stood in the Pacific Division after getting doused in the East.