Previewing the NBA: Philadelphia set to repeat as champion
The established power structure isn't apt to change much this year in the National Basketball Association - that is, barring unforeseen trades or other player developments.
While no NBA team in the past 15 years has been able to repeat as league champion, the tremendous team balance of the 1983-84 Philadelphia 76ers is hard to ignore. So possibly all it would take for Philadelphia to win again would be another MVP season by center Moses Malone, who could dominate King Kong.
With the season scheduled to open Friday, here are the scouting reports: Atlantic Division
Head Coach Billy Cunningham's biggest problem probably will be keeping his stellar cast in Philadelphia interested until the playoffs start. Fortunately he has a self-winding center in Malone; the inherent pride of Julius Erving; and the steadiness of playmaker Maurice Cheeks to keep his club going. The 76ers also play extremely hard on defense. Boston, under new coach K. C. Jones, will proably win a ton of games and is expecting a great year from ex-Phoenix guard Dennis Johnson. The backcourt picture still looks a bit too uncertain overall, however, to offer much hope of catching the 76ers. The New Jersey Nets have a fine new coach in Stan Albeck and will probably run more and score more than they have in the past. But when you have to rely on centers like Darryl Dawkins and Mike Gminski, titles are not easily secured. ''We have improved our situation since last year,'' said Head Coach Hubie Brown of the New York Knicks. Translation: We can play top defense for 48 minutes, but we still can't rebound as a team. Gene Shue will do his usual fine coaching job with the Washington Bullets and probably finish last in his division because he still doesn't have enough of a bench. Central Division
Milwaukee, the only team to record a playoff win against Philadelphia last spring, probably has a chance for another division title if center Bob Lanier can play 70 games, but could finish as low as third if he doesn't. To give Lanier some help on the boards, the Bucks drafted 7 ft. 3 in. Randy Breuer of Minnesota. It wouldn't take much for Atlanta to win this division. The Hawks play one of the best trapping defenses in the league, and they have two powerful big men in Tree Rollins and Dan Roundfield. They also have a new coach in Mike Fratello, a former assistant to New York's Hubie Brown. Detroit, a team on the upswing, should continue to improve. The Pistons' new coach, Chuck Daly, plans to move forward Kent Benson back to center and has been pushing for more togetherness on defense. New Chicago Coach Kevin Loughery is good with distressed merchandise. And while the Bulls' 28-54 record last season might suggest the need for a wholesale housecleaning, Loughery's personnel isn't really that bad. In fact Chicago, with three first-round draft picks this year, now has 10 such players on its roster. There is so much work to be done at Indiana that Pacer Coach Jack McKinney is the envy of no one. His biggest job will be teaching rookie Steve Stipanovich the mysteries of playing center in the NBA - and it could take most of the season. Midwest Division
San Antonio is a veteran team that probably won't look much different under Morris McHone, Stan Albeck's former assistant, than it did under Albeck. However , the Spurs will go only as far as veteran center Artis Gilmore and a few new young players can take them. Denver is a great offensive team that probably depends too much on its super front line of Dan Issel, Alex English, and Kiki Vandeweghe. The Nuggets play defense when they think about it, which isn't often. Head Coach Dick Motta says that Dallas can make the playoffs this year if it can find just two things: (1) somebody who can take charge on the floor; and (2) some bench people who can score. While nobody was looking last year, Kansas City won 45 games for Cotton Fitz-simmons. But the Kings probably won't do it again without more defense and rebounding, which is why they acquired forward Mark Olberding from Chicago. Rebuilding has become a way of life for Utah, which will be showcasing a new crowd pleaser in forward Thurl Bailey, who was the leading scorer and rebounder on North Carolina State's NCAA champions. The Jazz, incidentally, will play 11 of their home games this year in Las Vegas. Rookie center Ralph Sampson is going to sell a lot of tickets in Houston, but insiders say his ultimate position in the pros will be as a forward and not in the pivot. Coach Bill Fitch, who spent the last four seasons in Boston, will also be counting on rookie forward Rodney McCray to help turn things around. The Rockets reached the NBA finals in 1981, were a playoff in 1982, but had the worst record in the league (14-68) last season. Pacific Division
Los Angeles hasn't said much about it, but if starting forward Kurt Rambis finds he can't play because of an injury, this team could be in big trouble. The alternative would be to start Bob McAdoo in Rambis's spot and hope McAdoo sacrifices some offense to concentrate more on defense and rebounding. The Lakers also have a new backup center in former San Diego Clipper Swen Nater. Seattle probably has as many good young players as any team in its division. But with a possibility of seven players making the club who were not there last year , it may take Coach Lenny Wilkens a while to get them all fitted into the same harness. Phoenix is always talking about building a team with more rebounding strength inside and this time the Suns may have done it. In addition to rugged forwards Maurice Lucas and Larry Nance, Coach John MacLeod will rotate three centers, including former Celtic Rick Robey. In Portland, Coach Jack Ramsay is so good at finding new ways to win that it is never wise to write off the Trail Blazers. This is a team that went through a fast growing experience last year with eight new faces who now understand the importance of togetherness. Jim Lynam, a Ramsay pupil, will coach San Diego this season. Again it is a case of Lynam having to fit the Clippers' large assortment of new players into a system that is probably unlike anything they've ever seen before. When Al Attles decided to move into the front office at Golden State, it also opened the door for assistant John Bach to become head coach. Bach's first priority will be to shore up a Warrior defense that ranked 15th in the league last season.