major notoriety had come from his altercations with Laker fan Jack Nicholson in
the Los Angeles Forum ("Sit down, fool!" Neal yelled at the actor, who
was blocking his view from the bench), but this season Neal's rescue missions
are of spine-tingling stuff.
In the four games
in which he has played more than 30 minutes, Neal has scored 31, 33, 21 and 10
points, the last coming in a victory at Boston he clinched with three overtime
baskets. Last Friday Neal was in street clothes resting his sore knees when
Lucas was thrown out of the game for flunking a vocabulary test with the
referees. But wait! Neal into the dressing room. Neal into the game. Neal 13
points in 16 minutes.
Owens, too, has
provided R and R for the front line both at forward and center. A skinny and
much-traveled ABA veteran who once was labeled "the advance man for a
famine," Owens has found a home in Portland, where he has used his
intelligence as well as his passing and scoring ability (13 games in double
figures) to blend into the Blazer system. "Playing 12 minutes here is like
playing 20 anywhere else, the center participates so much," Owens says.
As any of the
local woodchoppers would tell you, however, there is another center who must
participate for the Blazers to continue devastating the NBA. Though he does not
lead the league in rebounding or blocked shots, as he has before, Bill Walton
is playing a more complete defensive game. With the metal pin having been
removed from his left wrist, Walton is also varying his offensive game to a
great extent, setting up on the right side, hooking both ways. "The
difference is I have two hands now instead of one," he says. "Two hands
for shooting, passing, carrying the groceries, everything."
Also for shielding
his privacy from the dastardly designs of the horrible, prying media. The other
day at the airport Walton put both hands over the lens of a TV camera when a
national network tried to take a picture of older son Adam, who was there to
meet the Blazers' plane.
Be that as it may,
Walton seems more relaxed and comfortable with the opposition, which is to say
anyone unacquainted with the Grateful Dead. Last week, between favoring a
banquet audience with some self-mockery, smashing a journalist in the face with
a marsh-mallow pie on McKinney's closed-circuit pregame show and admitting he
was "happy and excited" to be going to the All-Star Game, Walton gave
the impression that he has finally accepted more responsibility in the public
Walton always has
maintained a joyful spontaneity with coaches and teammates. No longer "the
Chief," a moniker that seemed to hold contrary meanings he didn't
appreciate, Walton has been renamed "Beaver" (by Twardzik)—not in
tribute to his teeth but after his middle name, Theodore, which was Beaver
Cleaver's real name on Leave ft to Beaver.
In practice last
week Beaver and Fudd and the rest of the once and future champions interrupted
their march toward immortality long enough to ridicule anew the vivid ensembles
of "our bald-headed emperor," to play soccer against the scorer's table
and to balance as many balls as they could on the basket rim. The Blazers piled
10 up there before all the balls came tumbling down.
"What is the
purpose of this?" said Ramsay, who had wandered over to investigate the
Guinness," called out Walton, referring to the book of world records. Which
was only fitting.