The DENVER NUGGETS had an offense as reckless (121.8 points per game, nine more than any other team) as their defense was feckless (122.3 allowed, nine more than anyone else), but that doesn't bother Coach Doug Moe: "Bad defensive play will help our offense." "We cut a lot, so many teams zoned and sagged on us last year," says David Thompson (25.5 points a game in 1980-81), who with Forward Alex English (23.8) and Center Dan Issel (21.9) constituted the NBA's highest-scoring threesome since Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor 12 years ago. "The new anti-zone rules will allow us to isolate guys easier."
T.R. Dunn and Billy McKinney are able backcourt backups to Thompson and lead Guard Kenny Higgs, and forward will be well stocked, especially if James Ray's left knee comes around. He'll alternate with Cedrick Hordges, Glen Gondrezick and Kiki Vandeweghe opposite English.
Tom Nissalke has different problems. "We've been changing our players like Grand Central Station the past few years," the UTAH JAZZ coach says. Rookie of the Year Darrell Griffith (20.6 ppg) was the seven-year-old franchise's first No. I pick ever. Their most recent No. 1 is 6'11" Center Dan Schayes, no bruiser but a good shooter and passer and, the Jazz hopes, a late bloomer.
The Jazz needs another guard to handle the ball and to get it to league-scoring-champ Adrian Dantley (30.7 ppg). Rickey Green, a gypsy from the Continental Basketball Association, might have to do. Erstwhile Center Ben Poquette will play forward opposite Dantley once Schayes is ready to go full time, and burly Bill Robinzine (acquired from Dallas) and rookie Howard Wood (a second-round pick from Tennessee) will also help in the forecourt.
General Manager Norm Sonju gushed last season that the DALLAS MAVERICKS would embody "wholesomeness and goodness and respect for God and country." But in their first season, the Mavericks had fewer wins (15) than players who suited up at one time or another (21). Now Coach Dick Motta has weeded out the "head cases" and bad citizens, and he feels the wins will follow.
Unlike the Jazz, the Mavs have nine first-round picks to exercise through 1986. "I think about the draft picks a lot," Motta said last season. "Sometimes it's all I have to think about."
This season he might find it worth-while to exert some of that brainpower on coaching four excellent rookies: Swingman Elston Turner, Center Jay Vincent, Guard Rolando Blackman and Forward Mark Aguirre, who says, " Dallas is a lot slower than Chicago. It gives you a chance to concentrate on the things you want to concentrate on—like basketball." So far, Aguirre's carefree ways haven't clashed with Motta's disciplined offense and businesslike workouts.
Survivors from last season who figure in this year's plans include leading scorer Jim Spanarkel, Forward Tom LaGarde, Center Scott Lloyd and Point Guard Brad Davis, who blossomed into a 56 percent shooter, while averaging seven assists. Davis was so impressive that the Mavericks, who had the No. 1 pick in the draft, passed on Isiah Thomas and went for Aguirre, who should start eventually with Blackman. Dallas' biggest concern should no longer be encroaching secular humanism but finding a dominating center.