Dark horse champion possible in NBA; Rozier moves on to pros

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Putting one little word after another and whatever became of Harthorne Wingo? . . . Head Coach Lenny Wilkens of the Seattle SuperSonics says this is probably a better year than most for a dark horse franchise to make the finals of the National Basketball Association playoffs. Wilkens bases this on the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers don't win anymore by just walking out on the court; the Boston Celtics have an obvious backcourt weakness; and the Los Angeles Lakers tend to have one bad period in nearly every game. As for the sort of team that might take advantage of this situation to slip in, Wilkens likes the chances of the New York Knicks.

''I don't know if the Knicks can maintain a high enough level of performance during the playoffs to win a championship,'' Lenny explained. ''But there have been stretches this year when they have played as well as any team in the league , and their defense is often outstanding. New York would have no chance, of course, if Philadelphia were to suddenly return to last year's playoff form, which allowed the 76ers to win 12 of 13 games en route to the title. But if the uneven regular-season play of some of this year's best teams were to carry over into the playoffs, the possibility of a major upset would exist.'' Nicklaus explains diminishing victories

Whenever Jack Nicklaus, whose name still has enormous marquee value, plays a major tournament that is covered by network television, ratings reportedly go up 3 percent. This is the same Nicklaus who has won four US Opens; five PGAs; five Masters; three British Opens; and two US Amateurs; but hasn't secured a victory since the 1982 Colonial. Nevertheless, the Golden Bear told reporters after Florida's Doral Open that he is a better striker of the ball than he was as a young player, and that he also manages his game better. ''The reason I don't win as often now,'' Jack explained, ''is because I don't shoot as many low scores as I used to, plus the fact that there are so many more good golfers out there than when I started.'' Nicklaus also said that he takes fewer chances now and that there are certain shots that he won't try at all, having seen too many of them create other problems along the way. Rookie Rozier opts for USFL

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Asked by reporters why he signed with the USFL's expansion Pittsburgh Maulers before he even knew which National Football League team might draft him, Nebraska All-America and Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier replied: ''The USFL pays more than the NFL, and that's what I'm looking for.'' Rozier's three-year contract is reportedly worth $3.1 million. Rozier is one of only two college backs ever to run for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. Mike totaled 2, 148 yards last year for Nebraska,while Marcus Allen gained 2,342 for Southern California in 1981.

A consistent 100-yards-a-game rusher in college, Rozier is off to a rather slow start as a pro. He has only 236 yards after five games, with a high of 77 against Washington in Pittsburgh's only win. The Maulers, however, have made good use of him as a pass receiver. Mike already has 17 catches, 10 more than he made all last season in college. Podres on pitchers

According to former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger left-hander Johnny Podres , pitchers don't throw as hard as they used to.

''I don't know what the thinking is, but pitchers just don't challenge hitters the way they did in my day,'' said the current Minnesota Twins pitching coach who once struck out eight Philadelphia Phillies in a row.

Another difference today, he noted, is the low emphasis put on complete games.

''I always went to the mound with the idea that I was going to finish what I started no matter what it took out of me (78 times Podres did, including two World Series victories). Now, with so much emphasis on the bullpen, most starters are gone after five or six innings. Maybe that's why they can enjoy all that catered food in the clubhouse after a game. I was always so into things emotionally that I never could eat until hours after I left the ballpark.''

Podres also pointed out that the Dodgers may have set a record when, using only 13 players (four of them pitchers), they swept the Yankees in four straight games in the '63 World Series. Dodger manager Walter Alston got three complete games from his staff (two from Sandy Koufax and one from Don Drysdale), plus 8 1 /3 innings from Podres. John was relieved in Game 2 by Ron Perranoski, L.A.'s present pitching coach. Around the horn

* World pole vault champion Sergei Bubka of the Soviet Union uses a 17-foot stick to get where he is going. His international competitors have taken to referring to his pole as a cannon. To get the kind of body leverage he needs, Bubka places his top hand a full 16 ft., 91/2 in. up the pole; almost a foot higher than most other vaulters. ''The guy is awesome,'' says US star Billy Olson, whose former world indoor record of 19 ft. 1/4 in. has been exceeded twice by Bubka in the last two months.

* The American Broadcasting Company, award winners for their innovative coverage of previous Summer Olympics, will provide American audiences with 1871/ 2 hours of viewing during the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which begin July 28.

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