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The Truck stops here
John Papanek
January 29, 1979
Truck Robinson didn't like all that Jazz in New Orleans, so he asked for a trade to Phoenix. Now he adds rebounding muscle to the nation's most elegant team
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January 29, 1979

The Truck Stops Here

Truck Robinson didn't like all that Jazz in New Orleans, so he asked for a trade to Phoenix. Now he adds rebounding muscle to the nation's most elegant team

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It has been proved that throwing a bunch of talented players together does not guarantee success in the NBA. And though Robinson's 13.1 rebounds a game obviously will help a team that was 17th in rebounding both this season and a year ago, his 23.9 scoring average could cause problems. Davis, Westphal and Adams are already over or near the 20-point mark. "We'll just score 136 points a game instead of 116," says Adams.

The truly amazing thing about the deal is that Phoenix did not lose a starter to gain a star. "I was determined not to break up the team we had painstakingly built," Colangelo says. The Suns will surely miss Lee, last year's league-leading ball thief, who defended like a junkyard dog and was characteristically depicted on the cover of the team's media guide diving flat-out for a loose ball. "With Ronnie gone, at least it's safe to practice," jokes Adams.

Robinson will hardly miss the Jazz, since he made it clear last summer that he wanted to go elsewhere. Much was made of his feud with Pete Maravich. That came about when Robinson's agent, Don Cronson, seeking to renegotiate Truck's contract, said, "The Jazz has two sets of rules. One for Pete and one for the rest of the players."

"All I did for the Jazz," says Robinson, "was play as hard as I could." Nevertheless, he became the heavy in a town where Maravich was king.

The trade could not have come at a better time for the Suns. Just before Robinson's arrival, they had lost to New Jersey and Seattle. Westphal had been in an eight-game slump, during which he was six points below his 24-point average and had shot only 43%. Adams was bothered by a hip injury, and Garfeld Heard, who had been the Suns' closest approximation of a strong forward, had missed 12 games with a back problem and was replaced by Alvin Scott.

"This time of year is just a boring, drab time in the NBA schedule," said Westphal. In fact, it was about this same time a year ago that the Suns started coming apart. They were 36-16 but won just 13 of their last 30 games. Then they were embarrassed in the first round of the playoffs, losing two straight to Milwaukee in that best-of-three series.

After beating Houston 116-97 at home Saturday night, the Suns were 28-19. More important, they were 13-13 on the road, one of only five teams—Washington, Seattle, Kansas City and Philadelphia are the others—that do not have losing road records.

When Robinson arrived in Phoenix on Jan. 13 for a game against Indiana, he was hailed as a savior. Although he knew little about MacLeod's relatively intricate series of plays and options—"In New Orleans," said Truck, "we had only one option. Then it was every man for himself"—he scored 20 points. Nevertheless, the Suns lost 102-99. Four nights later, in Milwaukee, Robinson had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Davis scored 24, but the Suns lost yet again, 123-118, because of another injury to Adams. This time it was a finger in his eye and an inadvertent fist in his face.

But in Detroit last Thursday night, the Suns got the ball moving and won, 97-87. Westphal hit nine of 18 and fired off 12 assists. Robinson had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Davis 26 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Half a dozen times the 6'6", 195-pound Davis grabbed rebounds and led the fast break, picking his way at full speed through bodies like a deer darting through a forest. Sometimes he pulled up to swish his balletic jumper, once he spun around Bob Lanier for a layup, and once he flipped the ball over his head to Robinson, trailing on the play. "Walter moves faster with the ball than most guys do without it," said Assistant Coach Al Bianchi. "For my money," says Westphal, "Walt is the best small forward in the game."

Phoenix beat Detroit without Adams, and his physical condition is the one problem facing the Suns if they intend to make a serious run at the championship. In Adams' one healthy season in four, Phoenix reached the playoff finals. "We're vulnerable at center," says MacLeod, "but not because Alvan's only 6'9". It's because of his proneness to injury." When healthy, Adams is in Dave Cowens' league as a runner, in Bill Walton's as a passer. Before his hip injury two weeks ago, he had a six-game stretch in which he averaged 25.5 points, 13 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

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