PRO BASKETBALL—A headline in the Los Angeles Times posed the question: "Are Lakers a Better Team Without Kareem?" Of course not, answered the Times and others. But the issue of how good the Lakers, who were 6-0 without the injured Abdul-Jabbar, would be when he returned went unanswered when the six-time league MVP appeared in a 110-90 loss to Seattle and scored 26 points. That defeat snapped the six-game win streak and gave L.A. a 17-4 mark since Magic Johnson made Coach Paul Westhead disappear. Earlier Michael Cooper had scored 56 points as the Pacific Division-leading Lakers beat Portland 124-110 and Phoenix 104-101, and, on a socks giveaway night, Los Angeles hosed San Diego by scoring its highest point total (139) of the season. Against the Clippers, rookie Forward Mike McGee, who had had only 29 career points, scored a game-high 27, becoming the first non-starter to lead the Lakers in 345 games. Jamaal Wilkes scored 34 as L.A. beat Utah 121-114, despite 40 points by the Jazz's Adrian Dantley. The other division leaders were hot, too; Philadelphia of the Atlantic and San Antonio of the Midwest each lost just once, and Milwaukee of the Central lost only twice. The 76ers (5-1) could not afford to falter as second-place Boston won four of five. The Spurs, 4-1, beat San Diego 114-109 and lost to Atlanta 105-97 before George Gervin scored 46, 42 and 38 points in consecutive wins over San Diego (119-107), Houston (109-104) and Denver (148-133). Almost as soon as the Bucks, who won five of seven, got one Johnson (Marques) back from a contract holdout, they lost another Johnson (Mickey) to a right knee injury. Beginning on Dec. 29, when Johnson & Johnson got together again, the Bucks increased a two-game win streak to five before losing to Denver. Golden State Coach Al Attles became the sixth coach in NBA history to win 500 games as the Warriors beat Dallas 119-100 and settled into a tie with Phoenix for third in the Pacific Division.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL—Clemson capped a 12-0 season and earned the No. 1 ranking for 1981 with a 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl (page 14). In other postseason games: Oklahoma beat Houston 40-14 in the Sun Bowl; North Carolina edged Arkansas 31-27 in the Gator Bowl; Ohio State defeated Navy 31-28 in the Liberty Bowl; Mississippi State shut out Kansas 10-0 in the Hall of Fame Bowl; West Virginia beat Florida 26-6 in the Peach Bowl; Michigan defeated UCLA 33-14 in the Bluebonnet Bowl; Texas upended Alabama 14-12 in the Cotton Bowl; Penn State whipped USC 26-10 in the Fiesta Bowl; Washington beat Iowa 28-0 in the Rose Bowl; and Pitt overcame Georgia 24-20 in the Sugar Bowl.
PRO FOOTBALL—Cincinnati beat Buffalo 28-21 and San Diego held off Miami 41-38 in overtime in the AFC playoffs, while Dallas crushed Tampa Bay 38-0 and San Francisco defeated the New York Giants 38-24 in the NFC playoffs (page 26). The Giants had beaten Philadelphia 27-21 in the NFC wild-card game; Buffalo had edged the New York Jets 31-27 in the AFC wild-card match.
HOCKEY—Wayne Gretzky, who has done little else wrong this season, really botched up his mother's flight plans. After Gretzky scored four goals in a 10-3 rout of Los Angeles to give him 45 goals after 38 games, Phyllis Gretzky made plans to fly from her home in Brantford, Ontario to Edmonton to see the Oilers play Boston—three games down the road. She calculated that would be when Wayne would get his 50th goal. But The Kid scored five goals in his next outing, a 7-5 win over Philadelphia, to give him 50 after just 39 games and make a mockery of the 50 goals in 50 games scored by Maurice Richard in 1944-45 and Mike Bossy last season. Gretzky's father, Walter, said, "I sometimes look on him as a runaway locomotive." The train halted briefly in Vancouver, where the Oilers lost 3-1 and Gretzky went pointless for the first time in 19 games. But the Smythe Division race is as much a farce as the league scoring race—which Gretzky leads 110-69 over his nearest challenger, Quebec's Peter Stastny. The Canucks' win left second-place Vancouver 20 points behind the Oilers, who added a point to that margin when they tied Boston 4-4. Rookie Oiler Goalie Grant Fuhr ran his unbeaten streak to 20 in that game. The Bruins, who had won five straight before meeting Edmonton, then wrested the Adams Division lead from Montreal by beating Winnipeg 8-5 as Buffalo slid into second with a 3-2 win over the Canadiens. Before that, the Sabres had won three in a row, before losing 6-3 to Quebec as the Nordiques kept the Adams race a four-team affair. Minnesota led the Norris Division as they tied three and won two of six games, including a 6-2 victory at Toronto, the North Stars' first win in their last 10 road games. Chicago, which had been battling the North Stars for the division lead, lost four straight, and St. Louis capitalized on the Black Hawk slump to move into second place. The Blues won three in a row before meeting Philadelphia, which overcame a 2-0 deficit to win 5-3 and end St. Louis' club-record string of seven straight home victories. The Flyers stayed two points behind the Patrick Division-leading Islanders, who won three—but lost two, to Montreal and the Rangers.
INDOOR SOCCER—MISL: St. Louis increased its Western Division lead to four games over Denver by sweeping five games. Eastern Division leader New York lost 7-4 to Pittsburgh before bouncing back with a 6-4 win over Kansas City.
NASL: Despite falling 5-4 to Tampa Bay, Tulsa remained atop the Central Division. Edmonton, with an 11-4 victory over San Jose, retained its Northwest Division lead and dropped the Earthquakes out of a first-place tie with Portland in the Western Division. The Timbers earlier had beaten both San Jose and Seattle 8-5, Toronto defeated New York 6-5 to stay atop the Eastern Division.
TENNIS—Johan Kriek beat Steve Denton 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 to win the $448,000 Australian Open in Melbourne.
MILEPOSTS—FIRED: By the New England Patriots, Coach RON ERHARDT, 49, who had a three-year record of 21-27, including 2-14 in 1981.
NAMED: As coach of the Baltimore Colts, FRANK KUSH, 52, who guided Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats to an 11-4-1 record in 1981 and had a 176-54-1 mark in 21� seasons at Arizona State. He replaced the fired MIKE McCORMACK, 51, who was 9-23 in two years with Baltimore, which lost 14 straight in 1981 between wins in its first and last games.
PLACED ON PROBATION: For two years by the NCAA, the University of Oregon football team for academic and other violations. The NCAA reduced the number of football scholarships Oregon can award the next two years and barred the Ducks from postseason play until 1983. Oregon also lost one basketball scholarship for the 1982-83 season because of recruiting violations.