If the Celtics can get something out of their young and inexperienced front line consisting of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, perhaps.... Just kidding. What new can be said about this golden oldie of a team? Only that the injury to Dee Brown, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last week and is out indefinitely, is a huge blow. The Celtics won 56 games last season, and notwithstanding Jordan's comment that "Larry Bird will be better, and the Celtics will be better," it will be quite an accomplishment if Boston matches that level of success.
During the off-season Hakeem Olajuwon journeyed to Saudi Arabia and prayed at Mecca. His chances of making it to the NBA version of Mecca for the second time (Houston lost in six games to the Celtics in the 1986 Finals) are not good. But the Rockets at long last seem to have a stable backcourt, with starters Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell and backup Sleepy Floyd wrapped up in long-term deals, and last year's surprise team could surprise again.
The Knicks may be one of the NBA's most interesting teams in spite of opening-weekend losses to the Magic and the Heat. New coach Pat Riley called first-round draft-pick guard Greg Anthony "a young Maurice Cheeks" (which is fortunate, because the Knicks traded away the old Maurice Cheeks), and Anthony, not Mark Jackson, is clearly the point of attack. "What we did in the past in L.A. will work here," says Riley. It may not work as well, but it will work. The Celtics had better watch their backs.
The return of Johnny Dawkins at the point—if he indeed is healthy after a severe knee injury—ensures that the Sixers will improve on their 44-38 mark of last year and thereby make the once proud Atlantic Division proud again. But the jury is still out on whether Charles Barkley will accept new starting center Charles Shackleford into the fold, and we already know what he thinks of forward Armon Gilliam: not much.
The Cavs hope to get a present for Christmas in the form of quarterback Mark Price—that's the target date for his return from knee surgery. Until then, rookie Terrell Brandon will at least hold the fort, while coach Lenny Wilkens hopes that the wave of injuries that plagued the Cavs the last two seasons has subsided. Cleveland could conceivably jump to as high as third in the conference if a healthy Price can join a healthy Brad Daugherty at center and Larry Nance and Hot Rod Williams at forward.
All that stood between Del Harris and three seasons of disaster when he was coaching Houston from 1979-80 to '81-82 was the hardest-working man in the low-post business, Moses Malone. So perhaps Harris, now the Milwaukee coach, cannot be blamed for his plan to revolve his offense around the now 36-year-old Malone. "He has the heart of a lion," says Harris of Moses. And Malone has now roared for eight teams—Utah and St. Louis in the old ABA, and Buffalo, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and Milwaukee in the NBA.
Bob Hill, the Pacers' coach, led the NBA in preseason gushing: "Chuck Person is like a little kid at Christmas." "Rik Smits had a terrific summer." "Sean Green [a rookie swingman from Iona] has NBA written all over him." Well, who can blame Hill, whose runnin'-and-gunnin' Pacers nearly upset the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs last May behind Person and high-scoring guard Reggie Miller? But unless the 7'4" Smits has a terrific winter on the defensive boards (you need the ball to fast break), the running Pacers will once again be also-rans.
The thinking always was that if general manager-coach Don Nelson was going to break up Run TMC (guards Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond and forward Chris Mullin), he would get a big-time center in the exchange. Evidently Nelson feels that Owens is good enough to take the Warriors to the next level. Maybe, but many others aren't even sure Owens will be as good as Richmond.
The Sonics are more or less the Indiana of the West, an unpredictable band that could either self-destruct or flex considerable muscle and move up in the pack. Coach K.C. Jones needs to find enough shots for both guard Ricky Pierce and forward Eddie Johnson, erstwhile sixth men whom Jones plans to play together; enough motivation to keep cruise-control frontcourtmen Benoit Benjamin and Derrick McKey interested; and enough confidence to make forward Shawn Kemp, who turns 22 on Nov. 26, the main man.
The Nonplayoff Teams