Early on, it was
refreshingly obvious that the Blazers had not become fat, happy, complacent or
checkbook-conscious. Walton set the tone in training camp, arriving stronger
and quicker, swigging huge gulps of hearts-of-artichoke juice or something and
knocking off the required 300 jump ropes so fast a teammate said, "You
couldn't even see the rope."
What is easier to
see is the steady progression of Hollins toward becoming one of the three or
four best all-round back-court men in the pros. Hollins' quick, ball-stealing
defense always was of top quality, but now the Train has also learned to use
his speed in moderation on the attack. Hollins' shooting is more consistent—42
of 64 in Portland's five-game winning streak—and his floor mistakes less
blatant. "I thought I was playing well early," he says, "but in the
last 20 games, I've been playing great. Everybody is just very confident. We
want it all again."
Blazers' other star, vows, "We're staying hungry. All of us know what it's
like to get blowed out. We want to keep doin' the blowin'."
At the risk of
drawing Lucas' All-Pro glare, let it be noted that his assessment is not
entirely correct. The Portland brass has assembled this remarkable team
according to a theory based on winning as an inherited trait; all the Blazers
have been big winners before. Only one member of the 11-man roster—Bob
Gross—did not come from an NCAA tournament team, and that was because Gross'
college, Long Beach State, was on probation. During his two years, Long Beach's
record was 43-9.
The team's small
forward, Gross is that prime example of an excellent player toiling for a more
than excellent team. Simply, he "fills a role." While the Waltons,
Lucases and Hollinses dominate the statistics and make the All-Star teams,
Gross spends much of the time, as he says, "doing what's left over."
This includes leading the team in offensive rebounds and, last week, turning in
what amounted to a perfect game against Milwaukee—19 points, six assists, five
Like Gross, the
curly-haired Twardzik—"our Polish immigrant child," Assistant Coach
Jack McKinney calls him—constantly is maligned as a journeyman living off his
more gifted teammates. This is hardly fair to the man his teammates have named
"Fudd" (something about a resemblance to Bugs Bunny's not-too-speedy
old foe). As he was last season, Twardzik is the league's best in shooting
percentage (.664) with a repertoire consisting exclusively of a twisting
corkscrew layup from three inches and a unique item he calls the
"springer." The springer is a jump shot in disguise because Twardzik
plainly cannot jump.
Dave Twardzik be without the Trail Blazers?" asks Portland GM Stu Inman.
"Who would K. C. Jones have been without the Celtics?"
If Fudd is K. C.
Jones, then Portland's Lloyd Neal is the famous Celtic sixth man. Or Tom Owens
is. Or Guard Johnny Davis. Or Steele. So deep and talented is the Trail Blazer
bench that opponents have a hard time figuring out which poison to accept.
Lucas, the premier
power forward in basketball, has missed six games, but the Trail Blazers have
won them all. Walton has missed two others—one when he flew home to be with
Susie Guth and their newborn son, Nathan—and the team won both of those as
well. Five different Blazers have led Portland in rebounding in one game or
another. Seven different men have led in assists. Nine separate players have
led in scoring. The Portland bench averages more than 41 points a game.
"Being a sub
doesn't bother me," says the 6'7" Neal. "Basically, you got to be a
contributor. When you get in the game, the secret is to play so you don't
apprehend the flow." What?