Whatever that means, it translates into trouble for the opposition. Among these are Midwest Division champ Kansas City, whose spectacular infant backcourt of Otis Birdsong and Phil Ford is possibly a year away; Denver, which, lacking injured George McGinnis, is a player away; and the Bill Walton-less Trail Blazers from Portland, who are both a year and a redheaded player behind.
That leaves the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, both of whom must count on the whim and/or availability of a single man to prolong their seasons.
If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can unwind from his sad malaise, not to mention the blistering attacks of a certain reviewer named Wilt Chamberlain, he should be motivated enough to carry the Lakers past their mini-series. By the same token, if the red-hot Suns can assimilate the reactivated Truck Robinson, who missed 15 games with a viral infection, into the complex workings of their family plan, they should put away the tough and much-improved Trail Blazers, then defeat Kansas City to come face-to-face with the men from Seattle.
In Los Angeles, Forward Adrian Dantley has displayed his muscles a lot and Jamaal Wilkes, who is about to become a two-time free agent, ran into a late-season shooting slump, and the truth is the Lakers have no rebounders to help Abdul-Jabbar on the glass and no guards to help Stormin' Norman Nixon in the backcourt. In defending his recent non-dominating performances, Kareem has declared that players are better today than in Chamberlain's time and "when a lion makes a kill, it doesn't growl or roar."
A couple of other references to the animal kingdom added to the Laker woes. "A dog" is what Abdul-Jabbar was allegedly called—there was a quick denial—by Coach Jerry West, who himself is surely a lame duck. Then Chamberlain came hurtling off the volleyball court and into the fray like a yapping hyena. Wilt, a noted authority on the subject, accused Kareem of loafing. " Moses Malone must have dunked over him seven or eight times," said Chamberlain. " Tom Owens embarrasses him. Look what Unseld did to him. It seems like all the centers are doing that to Kareem. The inside is his office. He should own that area...."
After their humbling first-round disappearance from the playoffs a year ago, the Suns are due for some postseason victories. "This time we're surging instead of limping," says Phoenix G.M. Jerry Colangelo. And, sure enough, the Suns won their final eight games, with the veteran Garfield Heard admirably filling in for Robinson.
Phoenix has the NBA's most mobile center in Alvan Adams, the most elegant forward in Walter Davis and a nonpareil guard in Paul Westphal, who finished in the top 10 in both scoring and assists, and they would win any three-on-three contest. Yet the Suns' long-range chances probably depend more on the consistency of their no-name bench, no-namely Mike Bratz, Joel Kramer, Hound McLean, Alvin Scott and Bayard Forrest, who collectively answer to "the McDowell Street Irregulars."
Though the team won't win any Gold Glove awards—Coach John McLeod's "trapazone" regularly earns technical fouls—this is a dangerous outfit that seems to be peaking at just the right moment. Despite the Suns' speed and savvy, however, their running game came a cropper against Seattle three times before Phoenix finally nailed the Sonics in their last meeting when Davis got 40 points in an overtime thriller. The Western finals may be just as thrilling, but Seattle should do the chilling.
About the possible championship round matching two " Washington" teams—which split four games during the season by a total point differential of one—count it, one—point, the Sonics' Downtown Brown says, "Don't be fooling yourself. You know it all boils down to us against Washington one more time. Both teams have great people all the way through the lineup. They're deeper, but we make up for that with our backcourt. Look, Gus is unstoppable, D.J. is finally D.J., only better. Then you got myself, whom nobody knows how to guard yet. What do I think? I think it will be wild and picturesque all over again."