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A few days before the two-time defending champion Pistons began their first-round playoff series against the Hawks, Detroit forward Dennis Rodman selected the postseason message he wanted to have shaved into his scalp. The word TRILOGY, the Worm decided, should be written in script above the Roman numeral III. (Remember when you told the barber to "take a little off the top," and that was that?) After the Pistons and Hawks split Games 1 and 2 at The Palace of Auburn Hills, however, the more ambivalent message that Rodman had worn earlier in the season seemed apropos: Between the years '89 on one side of his scalp and '90 on the other was '91 and the notation HMMM.
Hmmm, indeed. The Pistons called on their trump card, stingy defense, to gut out a 101-88 win in Game 2, but that came on the heels of a 103-98 loss in Game 1, during which the defending champs looked vulnerable. In the opener, Detroit even got the worst of the physical confrontations, including one early in the fourth period in which Piston center Bill Laimbeer was ejected for taking a swing at his Hawk counterpart, Moses Malone. Composure, Bill, composure—there's a long way to go.
Then again, it was a hmmm kind of weekend for other leading title contenders as well. The Trail Blazers looked solid but not devastating in winning Games 1 (110-102) and 2 (115-106) at home against the SuperSonics, while the Spurs, Suns and Celtics managed only splits in their own arenas. Hmmm, hmmm and hmmm. All things considered, the Bulls and Lakers should feel pleased after having controlled two games at home against, respectively, the mostly pathetic Knicks and the suddenly-out-of-fuel Rockets.
Herewith is a look at some of the early postseason winners and losers, and some themes that may continue throughout the playoffs and into next season.
Referee Fortitude—This has been a season of controversy for NBA officials, what with reports of internal bickering and dissatisfaction among coaches with supervisor of officials Darell Garretson (SI, April 1). And the decision by veteran ref Jack Madden to allow himself to be overruled on a key shot-clock decision in Game 1 of the Laker-Rocket series at The Forum made matters only worse.
Madden was not only the so-called lead ref in the game but also was in perfect position to rule that the jumper by L.A.'s Byron Scott with seconds remaining did not beat the 24-second clock. Yet, after first waving off the shot—and seeing the Lakers go bananas—Madden conferred with colleagues Dick Bavetta and Bruce Alexander and reversed himself at their urging. Never mind that the TV replays appeared to show that Madden's original call was correct or that he was the only official with both Scott and the 24-second clock in his line of vision. He should have stuck to his guns in any case. His officiating instincts did not betray him. His nerve did.
What shouldn't be overlooked is that the Lakers would have led 91-90 even if the shot had not counted. Houston then would have had 3.5 seconds to go the length of the floor and get off a potential game-winning shot. As it was, Los Angeles won 94-92.
Larry Bird's Back—Both Bird and the Celtics brass were still waffling at week's end about confirming published reports that he will undergo back surgery in the off-season. Don't listen to them—Bird will have an operation, and he hopes to recover in time for training camp beginning in October.
Meanwhile, his aching back got precious little rest at Boston Garden against the surprisingly gritty Pacers. Bird played 41 grueling minutes (21 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists) in the Celtics' 127-120 victory in Game 1, and 40 minutes (18 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists) in their 130-118 loss in Game 2. Bird was double-and sometimes triple-teamed, and, worse, he occasionally had to guard such potent offensive players as Chuck Person and Detlef Schrempf. Bird's effort was such that by the midway point of the second period of Game 2, he had swept the Garden's hallowed parquet with his rear end four times. Not enough Celtics followed his example, however.