Critics of pro basketball like to joke that most games are condensed into just two minutes -- the last two. Everything before that, they say, is merely a basket-trading preliminary.
Realizing there's something to this, the Continental Basketball Association rewards teams for winning quarters, not just games. The team scoring the most points in any quarter receives one point in the league standings. A team can accumulate four points this way, besides the three awarded to the game's winner.
Teams that dominate, therefore, can score 7-0 shutouts, while those that dillydally through three quarters may secure only 4-3 victories.
Every quarter, in a sense, becomes a mini-game. ''We're trying to promote hard play throughout,'' says Fran Greenberg, the league's publicity director. ''That way spectators don't have to wait until the fourth quarter for things to start cooking. They're involved. You won't find them slipping out to get popcorn during the last 60 seconds of the quarter.''
The CBA will decide whether or not to continue its experiment after the current season ends. The scheme places more demands on starting players, who stay in games longer, making for less bench-clearing ''garbage time.'' Likewise, coaches find it more mentally exhausting.
Artistically, the experiment may be a success, if increased attendance is any indication.
The CBA, a developmental league that acts as a farm system for the National Basketball Association, tried out collapsible rims for the NBA last season. The seven-point system, however, is strictly a CBA invention and is not being tested for use in the major league.