Cavalier detractors point out that it takes poise, concentration and experience to survive the whirlpool of the playoffs, but Fitch says his team is mature "in the way of unselfishness. It's a young team with the attitudes of an old one." Above all, the Cavs may possess more talent than anybody. And look what inexperience and talent did for Golden State in last year's whirlpool. "Sure I think they can win," says the Bullets' Wes Unseld. " Cleveland is like the old Knicks. They shoot from outside, run their plays well and don't let you fast-break."
The series between Cleveland and Washington should be the best of the opening-round matchups. The Cavs beat the Bullets 4-2 during the season and should win again if Thurmond supports Chones enough to wear down Unseld, who has had big rebounding nights against Cleveland, and if the fleet Walker aids Jim Cleamons enough in tiring out Dave Bing.
With Elvin Hayes, Leonard (Truck) Robinson and Phil Chenier, the Bullets would seem to have an edge at the other positions. Yet the Cavs' Jim Brewer out-rebounds Hayes, Bingo Smith has been effective hitting baseline jumpers on Robinson and Dick Snyder seems to neutralize Chenier with his own offense.
Since Washington's vastly improved Truck convoyed himself from a substitute's role to that of a star, the Bullet bench has become inoffensive. The backup guards are old and slow, Nick Weatherspoon has been in and out of Coach K. C. Jones' doghouse and not much has been heard from Mike Riordan since he headlocked Rick Barry last May.
For their part, the Cavs can throw the explosive Carr and Russell as well as Thurmond and Walker at the Bullets and stand fresher at the end. Having both depth and the home-court advantage, that is what the Cavs probably will do as they advance to the Eastern final.
With the best record in the East, the Celtics must wait for Philadelphia and Buffalo to have at one another in what should be an exhausting mini-series. This one is best-of-three, you shoot-me shoot, oley-oley-in-free stuff. The 76ers have the home-court advantage and the more intimidating crowd. Pointing up the trend toward home-court dominance, the 76ers were 34-7 in Philly and 12-29 away from the friendly confines of the Spectrum. As Coach Gene Shue admits, "We really have not become a team."
What the 76ers have become is a veritable time bomb on offense, featuring George McGinnis inside and Doug Collins and Fred (Mad Dog) Carter outside. The team does not guard anybody and it is stuck with a center named Harvey (Catchings) who, like the rabbit, is well-nigh invisible. But Philadelphia should beat Buffalo anyway, simply by letting Bob McAdoo get his 80-90 points a game and working hard to contain the outstanding guard, Randy Smith, and the rest of the Braves.
The 76er bench is superior to that of the Braves because of Guard Lloyd (Born) Free and Clyde (Died) Lee. Besides doing a good job in relief, Free hurls more banana balls than even the Mad Dog, and Lee falls down a lot, making the 76ers a bunch of laughs to watch.
McGinnis had a splendid record in ABA playoff competition and there is no reason to believe he has forgotten how. He and McAdoo became fast friends late in the season, but if Philly gets in against Boston, amity will not be involved.
Back on March 20, McGinnis collided with the Celtics' Paul Silas and suffered torn knee cartilage. (He is well now.) Surely the incident had nothing to do with Silas' earlier criticism that McGinnis was a "hot-dog player" who turns on for the crowd. Still, there is no love lost here. This would be Boston- Philadelphia, remember. Shadows of Russell-Chamberlain; Sixer announcer Dave Zinkoff versus Celtic championship banners. Crowd hostility. Blood. Fun.