Just when it appeared they would be the Cinderella team of the NBA this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have begun battling with their coach.
The Cavaliers' rise from a 2-19 start under George Karl to a shot at a playoff spot is an entertaining story. But it may be premature to give them a playoff berth.
The ill and injured Atlanta Hawks outlasted the Cavaliers, 91-86, in overtime Saturday night before 16,787 fans at Richfield, Ohio. The Hawks and Cavaliers, both with 28-43 records, are tied for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With 11 games to go, the Cavaliers would appear to still have the edge. They play seven games at home, four on the road. The Hawks play six games on the road, four at home and one at New Orleans, their home away from home.
For the showdown game, the last meeting between them, the Cavaliers, a disgruntled group after being dismantled by the Boston Celtics, were without one of their stars, Phil Hubbard.
The Hawks had only eight able- bodied athletes. Tree Rollins and Eddie Johnson were out with the flu, Sly Williams has an intestinal ailment and Randy Wittman a sore knee.
But they had Dominique Wilkins, and he led them with 21 points. He also sank an 18-foot jumper in overtime, but it was four free throws in the last minute by Scott Hastings that clinched the win for the Hawks.
In Friday's rout at Boston, Karl kept talented rookie Mel Turpin on the bench. After the game, Karl said the Cavaliers guards didn't do anything to stop Boston's outside attack.
Turpin, who has upset Karl because of his practice habits, and guard World B. Free were both upset with Karl.
"I think I've been working hard," Turpin said. "What does he want me to do, break everyone's legs?"
Free said he thought Karl was wrong in his postgame comment. "He told us to sag on the big guys and let them have the outside shot," Free said.
Free scored 17 points against the Hawks but he was only 6 for 23 from the field. With Free firing as he did, the Cavaliers shot 39% from the field. Still, they could have won in regulation if Edgar Jones had not missed a free throw with 19 seconds left.
Hastings, who said he wasn't the one fouled when he made the first two of his crucial free throws, thinks eight is a lucky number for the Hawks.
"We went to Boston with only eight a couple of weeks ago," he said. "And now this. This was a big win for a young team."
Kansas City 113, New York 105--After scoring 37 points at Kansas City, Bernard King of the Knicks injured his knee while fouling Reggie Theus and may lose the scoring title.
If King is unable to play in the last 11 games, he will not play enough games to qualify. He has already missed 16 games. Although he has a big lead over Larry Bird, King, if he needs surgery, will not play the necessary 65 games to qualify for the title.
Rookie Otis Thorpe, with 31 points and 17 rebounds, led the Kings to their fourth win in a row.
Boston 104, Washington 98--Danny Ainge sank three consecutive jumpers early in the fourth quarter at Landover, Md., to break open a tight game and lead the Celtics to their eighth win in a row.
The Celtics led only, 77-76, before Ainge, who scored 12 points in the last quarter, went on his short spree.
Larry Bird had had an off shooting night (5 of 14), but had 12 rebounds and nine assists.
The Bullets outrebounded the Celtics, 61-41.
Milwaukee 140, Indiana 129--Paul Pressey scored a career-high 30 points, and Terry Cummings had 31 to lead the Bucks to their 10th consecutive home-court victory. It was the Bucks' 50th victory and left them one victory away from clinching the Central Division.
Golden State 123, Phoenix 109--Purvis Short, after injuring his back on a fall in the first half at Oakland, came back to score 12 points in the third quarter to spark the Warriors to their second win in a row over the Suns.
Short, who sat out the last quarter, finished with 33 points.
The loss dropped the Suns lead over Seattle in the battle for the final playoff spot in the West to 1 1/2 games.
Chicago 107, Dallas 97--On a night when Michael Jordan made only 5 of 17 shots, the Bulls won at Dallas on the uncanny accuracy of Steve Johnson. The big forward scored 31 points, sinking 12 of 13 field-goal attempts.
Jordan finished with 20 points, and the Bulls won on the road for only the second time in their last 18 games.