Moreover, the team is depleted by injuries, confused on the court, floundering at the gate and grumbling again. Collins, the star guard, missed nearly eight weeks because of a bone-spur operation, all the while clashing with management over the seriousness of his injury. Both Williams and Coach Billy Cunningham are reported to be on the way out, either by decree of the impatient Dixon or of their own volition. The 76ers aren't getting the production they would like out of the third forward spot; until Collins' return last week, they had no capable big guard; and there is no immediate prospect of installing a matching gold earring in the 6'11�", 480-pound Dawkins' other lobe, or whatever has to be done to make him into something other than a vast, laughable sideshow.
To expect Erving to rectify such a situation by himself would be about as preposterous as asking him to go one-on-one with the Ayatollah Khomeini.
For one, Erving is just not the same player he was in the ABA. A comparison of his last two years with the Nets and his first two years in Philadelphia shows that Dr. J had 1,507 more points, 663 more rebounds, 310 more free throws, 300 more assists, 107 more blocked shots and 99 more steals for the Nets. His five-year ABA scoring average of 28.5 is almost eight full points above his NBA average. Erving's 49% field-goal and 75% free-throw figures this season are nearly the lowest of his career.
These differences can be attributed to several factors other than the lingering fable of NBA superiority—an argument you might take up with Moses Malone, George Gervin, Maurice Lucas, McGinnis, Thompson, Jones or any of the other NBA all-stars Erving played with and against in the ABA.
First and foremost, at its best, Dr. J's game has always been one of refined speed, finesse and creativity and lightning movement in the open court when he elected to come down from the rafters and engage in man-to-man confrontations. What the pros call "breaking down" an opponent is something Erving could and still can do better than anyone. In the NBA, however, everybody doubles up on him, which is natural, but teams also pack defenders down low, clog the lanes and (sh, keep this a secret now) zone the bejeezus out of the Doctor. This makes it practically impossible for Erving to consistently drive to the hole for the swoop baskets by means of which he developed his Dr. J reputation. In addition, the NBA push-and-shove oxcart defensive philosophy severely cramps Erving's lateral style, turning him into just another jump shooter. And he's not a very good jump shooter.
Then, too, Erving has exhibited other glaring flaws, at least for a certifiable, all-universe player. In Philly he has been only an adequate rebounder. Although he is a good passer, he tends to dribble into traffic too much, breaking the team pattern or not concluding the play, and he sometimes winds up committing himself in the air and throwing the ball away. This has resulted in several eight- and nine-turnover horror shows.
It is on defense, however, that Dr. J is most vulnerable. His proclivity for becoming trapped in switches and for losing his own man while helping out others has caused him to be embarrassed by some very strange customers. Chicago's Ollie Johnson and Denver's Bob Wilkerson had big nights against Dr. J. Boston's Curtis Rowe, at the time averaging all of three points, rejuvenated his career with a midseason 17-point miracle, many of the points coming against Erving. And in a game in the Spectrum, Kansas City's Bob Nash came off the bench to score 18 of his 24 points against Erving, after which the Philadelphia press took off the gloves.
" Erving's defense seemed to consist of rushing frantically at Nash's waistband," wrote the Inquirer's Bill Livingston, "while the King [Nash] leaped on the baseline for unencumbered jumpers after which the Doctor would shout, in an excited gabble, 'Hey!' "
Erving admits to diminished capabilities in some areas. "I don't think I'm as good a rebounder as I was—but that comes from playing with two huge centers and being our shortest forward," he says. "I'm guilty of thinking they're going to get the board, then somebody on the other team gets it. I also don't gamble as much on the D. I don't have the steals and blocks I once did. But we have other people doing those jobs. Bobby Jones led Denver in steals and blocks, but now look. He can't do that here.
"On defense, let me point out that a player's weakness shows up mostly when there is no team defensive concept. Again, Bobby guards the people I guarded last year. When they got 25 off me, it was a headline. When it happens to Jones, he's had a 'bad night.'