'Sleepy' Floyd waking up basketball opponents

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There is a whippet-quick guard on the Golden State Warriors named Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, who has half the players in the National Basketball Association angry at him.

Charge that turbulence to the fact that Floyd is putting a torch to the old NBA cliche that nobody can play hard night in and night out. Whoever gave Sleepy his nickname definitely got the wrong guy.

Floyd, of course, wouldn't be having these problems if he wasn't also scoring well, piling up assists, and playing like an all-star. If he were performing with the Knicks, his court flair would probably prompt the New York press to build him up as the next Walt Frazier.

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Instead he is being asked to perform his little miracles for a team that garners little attention; has to struggle just to stay around the .500 mark; has several players who often bring their bodies but not their minds to games; and rates 13th in the league on defense.

When fans are suddenly reminded that the New Jersey Nets traded Sleepy, along with forward Mickey Johnson, to Golden State last February for Michael Ray Richardson, the only thing they want to know is why. There should be a slight pause here while the Nets' front office thinks up a clever answer.

The Warriors have a ready explanation for their end of the deal. ''We were interested in Floyd because we liked his offense and felt that we could improve his defense,'' explained Warriors' Coach John Bach. ''Like most rookies who come into the pros, he was impatient with his game. He wanted to do too much too soon and in this league you don't force things and get to play. I guess you could say the talent was always there, but the discipline to get the most out of it wasn't.

''Actually Floyd is just beginning to expand his game, to realize some of the great potential that's there,'' Bach added. ''Of course there has always been an explosive quality about his offense. You could see that when he led Georgetown in scoring all four years he was in college. But now he's beginning to put everything into perspective as a pro, including the importance of playing defense. Basically there isn't a whole lot more he has to learn.''

Maybe the best way to explain Floyd, if you haven't seen him perform, is to note the way he operated recently for Golden State in a 115-106 come-from-behind victory against the defending NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers.

Weaving in and out of traffic with the ball and moving constantly without it, Sleepy scored 27 of his 35 points in the second half, when the Warriors needed them most. His whole game that night was a lesson in court sense - knowing where the play was going; taking charge in the clutch; and hitting the open man whenever he got double-teamed inside.

''There are some tremendous offensive players in the NBA, but I doubt if the reaction time of people like Magic Johnson or Sidney Moncrief is any better than Sleepy's,'' said veteran NBA scout Larry Creger. ''I don't think you can refer to Floyd as merely a basketball player. What you have to call him is a natural athlete who makes his living playing basketball, although he probably would have made some pro football team a great defensive back.

''I have no idea why New Jersey traded him,'' Creger continued. ''Maybe they felt he was expendable because they had too many guards. Maybe they thought they could get more help right away from a veteran like Richardson than a rookie. But I can tell you that there are a lot of teams in this league who would trade for Sleepy now if they had the chance.''

Floyd would probably be even better offensively if he were playing with a consistently fine center like Philadelphia's Moses Malone or Boston's Robert Parish, who could set picks for him inside. Instead Sleepy is often in the position of having to adjust his game to the many moods of Warrior pivotman Joe Barry Carroll.

While there are nights when Carroll plays like an all-star, there are too many other times when he just shows up. Those are the nights, of course, when Floyd works hardest for his points; tries to do more things without the ball; and increases the intensity of his defense.

''I think the main difference between the way I'm playing this year and the way I played last season is the improvement I've made in my consistency,'' Floyd told me. ''Before I wasn't exactly sure what I could do, but now I know, including the fact that if you pressure your opponents enough they'll make mistakes.''

As for his habit of approaching every game as though it were the deciding contest of the playoffs, Sleepy, who missed Wednesday's game with an injured ankle, says he's always tried to play that way.

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