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It is little wonder that when Dr. Jack Ramsay came from Buffalo to coach Portland this year, he cleaned house. Petrie was traded, Wicks sold. The new boss said he was "a Walton man" and, with General Manager Stu Inman, Ramsay went out and got quick, smart players, men of good will and character who could surround and complement a hale and hearty Walton as well as run circle routes, Z-outs and fly patterns and haul in his outlet passes.
Walton used to loaf up the court in Portland's setup style, but he was always, as the song goes, born to run—and Ramsay ordered it. To date, the Trail Blazers have scored 45 points in a single quarter against Atlanta (after which Hawk Coach Hubie Brown pointed to the scoreboard and screamed at his troops, "Look up there. You know what that means? That means 180 damn points at the end"). They have scored 145 points against Indiana, 146 against Philadelphia. They lead the NBA in scoring average. "If I wanted to give a clinic on how to run the break, I could show our home-game films," says Ramsay. With a pressing, shot-rejecting defense at the other end of the floor, they also are sixth in league defense.
Portland's fast start can be attributed to its favorable early-season schedule at home, where the team has drawn a succession of sellouts or near-sellouts. Still, the Blazers' success seems fairly remarkable, in that seven members of the 12-man group are brand new this year and only Maurice Lucas ever played on a winner in the pros.
"What the coach has done is treat everybody the same," says one Blazer. "He is consistent in dealing with each individual. He's concerned with team attitudes, not just the stars'. Bill never got that equal treatment, not even at UCLA. He loves that here."
Walton has found some real soul partners, too. Lucas, the fearsome ABA enforcer, is another vegetarian, in addition to being one of the most complete power forwards in the league; at times Walton appears stunned when, high over the backboard, he glances across the rim to witness Lucas ripping another rebound asunder and scattering the bodies below him. "Bill's a gorilla until the fight starts. Then he goes in hiding while I straighten things out," Lucas says.
"I think most of Luke's friends are in homes," says Walton.
Two other Blazer starters would make any basic trivia exam. Bob Gross? Dave Twardzik? The 6'6" Gross is a deceptively talented second-year man out of Long Beach who shares Walton's devotion to ultraviolet rays whenever the schedule sets the Blazers down in a warm climate. And the 6'1" Twardzik is an ABA veteran from Virginia who made a reputation for himself by hitting the floor more often than Floyd Patterson while taking charging fouls and diving for loose balls. He is Walton's partner on four-wheel Jeep forays.
The duties of Gross and Twardzik mainly consist of harassing enemy dribblers until the ball goes up. At which point it is as if somebody fires off a pistol for the 100-yard dash. Woosh! With Guard Lionel Hollins, another burner, they are out of the blocks and filling the lanes as Walton and Lucas climb the boards, retrieve the ball, then hurl it downcourt.
Until last week Portland had been unable to get this scorching fast break cranked up on the road. In the process of adapting to one another, the back-court—rookie Johnny Davis and veteran Herm Gilliam spell Twardzik and Hollins—had been inconsistent and error-prone. Hollins alone threw away at least five fast-break opportunities in an embarrassing 115-106 defeat at Milwaukee on Tuesday.
The next evening at Indianapolis, the Blazers scored the first 12 points of the game. Then, after leading the Pacers 64-50 at halftime, Portland suddenly stopped running, scored only 15 points in the third quarter and had to struggle to save a 101-100 victory.