So does Mullin.
The Talk of the Hawks
When Hawks guard Steve Smith learned last February that Atlanta had acquired forward-center Christian Laettner from the Timberwolves, he cringed. "Because of what I'd read, I was expecting the worst," says Smith. "A whiner. A crybaby."
"You hear the stories," says Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo, a Nugget at the time of the deal, "and you wonder if he could really be that big of a jerk."
Laettner, aware that his image had preceded him, kept a low profile. "I was hoping the Hawks would allow me to prove their preconceived notions wrong," he says.
After Monday's 106-97 win over the Hornets at The Omni, Atlanta had won 17 straight home games and stood third in the Central Division with a 26-11 record. A key to the upward flight has been Laettner. Mutombo's arrival as a free agent allowed Laettner to shift from the pivot to power forward, his natural position, and the results have been startling. Through Monday, Laettner was leading Atlanta in scoring (19.5 average) and—belying his reputation for selfishness—has been among the Hawks most concerned about ball movement. "We definitely play team basketball," says Laettner. "Some other teams play one-on-one or two-on-two. I'd rather be here."
In his 3½ seasons in Minnesota, Laettner played for four coaches (Jimmy Rodgers, Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair and Flip Saunders) and showed little regard for any of them. But his criticism last season of rookie Kevin Garnett—criticism most people in the Timberwolves' organization viewed as pure jealousy—is what led Minnesota to trade him. In Atlanta, Laettner has spoken more softly and carried the big shot. His scoring and rebounding (8.9) have won his new team over.
"Chris's biggest problem was he wasn't used to losing," Smith says. "That's not an issue here."
Line of the Week
Sonics forward-center Sam Perkins, Jan. 15 against the Raptors: 23 minutes, 8-8 field goals, 26 points, 3 steals, 1 block. All of Perkins's field goals were three-pointers, tying the NBA record for most treys in a game without a miss, held by the Jazz's Jeff Hornacek, who performed the feat against Seattle on Nov. 23,1994. Perkins's steals helped contribute to the Sonics' total of 27, which broke the league record of 25 set by the Warriors in 1975 and equaled by them in 1989.
Around the Rim
Clippers guard Brent Barry was banged up early in the season (sprained right thumb, sore back) and has not found his way back into coach Bill Fitch's rotation. Fitch wants less showboating (a reason, perhaps, that Barry has declined to defend his All-Star weekend slam-dunk title?) and more defense from him. "What's Fitch's problem?" asks the Hawks' Jon Barry, Brent's brother. "Brent didn't play defense last year, either."...The Celtics, whose All-Star swingman and captain, Reggie Lewis, died of a heart ailment in 1993, and whose swingman, Eric Williams, experienced an irregular heartbeat last fall, have purchased a lightweight, portable cardiac defibrillator to keep courtside.... One overlooked detail of the Jan. 10 trade that sent forward Robert Horry from the Suns to the Lakers: It enables LA. to give some rest to forward Jerome Kersey, 34. After playing 27.8 minutes a night, which he was doing until Horry arrived, Kersey averaged 20
minutes in Horry's first three games as a Laker.