Lakers, Celtics boast best NBA records; how far for 3 points?

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers losing on the same day] Check last Sunday's box scores, because they confirm that this ``Ripleyan'' feat actually happened, with Philadelphia defeating Boston 95-94 and Houston downing the Lakers 109-103. The setbacks were witnessed by a national TV audience, and may have convinced some observers that it's still too early to be penciling the Celtics and Lakers into their third straight National Basketball Association championship series.

There's no question, however, that Boston and L.A. have been the dominant teams throughout the regular season, which ends this weekend. The Celtics, 65-15 with two games left, will finish with one of the best winning percentages (somewhere around .800) in league history. The defending champion Lakers, meanwhile, could equal or improve on last year's .756 mark, depending on the outcome of their last three games.

After these ``superteams,'' only seven other franchises are assured of finishing above .500. They are, in descending order by record, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, and Dallas.

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At this point, Boston appears to be the team to beat, with possibly the best collection of talent in Celtics history. That's saying an awful lot, yet Bill Walton and Jerry Sichting have been been tremendous acquisitions, and Larry Bird has generally regained the spectacular form some sensed slipping away late last spring.

Bird, however, doesn't always come through. Last Sunday, for example, the league's leading free-throw shooter missed two foul shots that would have put Boston up 96-92 with seven seconds left. Instead, Philadelphia won when Julius Erving gained possession after a jump ball and threw in an desperation buzzer-beater from 3-point land.

That's the sort of play often required to beat the Celtics these days. They have lost just four of their last 25 games, and on three occasions the other team got a big 3-pointer in the last minute. The lone exception was Wednesday night's 108-98 loss to the New Jersey Nets. Colleges go to 3-pointer

For several years college basketball went through a period of wide-ranging experimentation with a shot clock and 3-point baskets. A 45-shot clock was finally adopted beginning this past season, but the idea of giving an extra point for long-range field goals never seemed that popular. That's why it surprised many observers when the National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball rules committee announced recently that the 3-point shot was being added to the game starting next season.

The 12-member committee that made the decision utilized the results of a questionnaire in determining the distance of the 3-point arc. Coaches apparently prefer having it 19 feet, 9 inches from the basket as opposed to 23-9, as used in the pro game. This startled many fans almost as much as the 3-pointer's adoption, since the shortened distance doesn't seem to take good outside shooters beyond their normal range. So why the bonus?

Past experiments with the shorter distance have sometimes produced shooting galleries, in which even centers occasionally pop in 3-pointers from the top of the key.

The intent of 3-pointers of any distance is to alleviate some of the congestion and rough play near the basket by encouraging outside shots. In an attempt to stop 3-pointers, teams will have to play more defense away from the hoop instead of packing everyone in around the lane.

The 3-pointer has gained popular acceptance in the NBA, where it is really something special. But the colleges seem to be inviting distortion of their game by placing a premium on a rather ordinary shot. A better solution would move the 3-point line back to where the NBA's is and also adopt the wider pro foul lane, so that the big men would have to set up farther from the basket. Another advantage to this is that it would eliminate confusion with the floor markings on courts where both college and pro teams play. English not his game, yet

Because of linguistic shortcomings, the first Eastern Bloc athlete to play in the National Basketball Association didn't see as much action as anticipated this season with the Phoenix Suns. He did, however, inspire this clever headline in the Basketball Digest: ``Georgi Glouchkov: His English Isn't Godunov.''

Glouchkov, a Bulgarian whose last name is pronounced GLOOSH-koff, arrived in training camp speaking no English and didn't readily pick it up. Given the shakiness of the player-coach and player-teammate communication, the 6 ft. 8 in. forward has had to spend his share of time on the bench alongside a translator. There's little doubt that he has the ability to play in the NBA, though, and should see more playing time next season in the final year of his guaranteed contract.

One of the top European players, Glouchkov came recommended to the Suns by a team scout who had coached in Italy. In his first exhibition game last October, Georgi proved Phoenix had made a wise decision in drafting him by scoring 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and blocking two shots against the Los Angeles Lakers in just 20 minutes. His regular-season high, however, has been 13 points and he has averaged just 4.8. The Suns, incidentally, have arranged to give a series of basketball clinics in Bulgaria during the off-season. Quotable quote

Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps: ``Intercollegiate athletics has lost its sense of direction, its role in the overall life of the university. We've shifted our emphasis from competing to winning, and we've forgotten the value of just competing. Worst of all, we've lost sight of the value of the student-athlete himself.''

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