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The ABA graduates will only occasionally be boring, but they may be in for some hard rain during the early competition. "We have to prove ourselves," says Indiana's Darnell Hillman, "and they [the NBA regulars] are gonna make us prove ourselves."
Chicago's 7'2" Artis Gilmore arrived in the Windy City from Kentucky to the herald of trumpets only to be "carded" (asked for his ID) in the Bombay Bicycle Club, a local watering hole. After that Gilmore was rudely battered around in exhibition games, once taking an opposition hook shot full in the face. "I am not Muhammad Ali," said the gentle newcomer, "but I refuse to take such unprofessional cheap shots."
ABA philosophies certain to show up in the merger include a concentration on the running game, quick guard play with a lot of shooting from backcourt and less physical but more all-court defense. Whether old NBA hands believe it or not, ABA teams stressed perimeter barricades (to discourage the three-pointer) and left the inside lanes unclogged. Surely this is a condition to look for, not to mention hope for, in the realigned league. Moreover, despite the NBA's reputation for rougher stuff, ABA teams found preseason referees' calls much closer than they were accustomed to.
Denver committed 79 fouls in its first two exhibition games. Seattle shot 69 free throws against the Nets. An exchange between the Nuggets' David Thompson and Referee Richie Powers after a blocking call on Thompson may have been a preview of things to come.
Thompson: "I was there all day."
Powers: "I don't miss many, kid, but you know I'll be right."
In this new/old-look season, a man wouldn't be far from right to choose as division winners three old—Boston, Cleveland and Golden State—and one new—Denver. The Nuggets are smart, quick and deep. Their experience in the unique "passing game" offense as well as their pressing, trapping defenses make Denver an especially difficult team to prepare for.
The Nuggets sold an astounding 10,000 season tickets, after which their gifted flying boy, Thompson, proceeded to a) block a Bill Walton dunk shot in Denver, b) shatter a backboard in Portland, and c) put on a spine-tingling high-wire demonstration in Oakland. "The man never drove on me before," said Golden State's Jamaal Wilkes. "He never posted either. Yes, it was a surprise. What a talent. He beat me bad all night."