As the situation gets even more serious for the Denver Nuggets, it is apparent that Coach Doug Moe is cracking under the strain of it all. Not in the usual way, of course.
Here is what’s causing it all. Moe must search for a guard to replace Lafayette (Fat) Lever until Lever’s left knee is healthy enough to allow him to play against the Lakers in the Western Conference final series. Problem is, the series may be over before that happens.
That would seem to be depressing news to the Nuggets, who lost by 17 points in Game 1 and will play the Lakers again tonight, again without Lever.
Whom will Moe start? He studied his options before cracking.
“I’m not that sick,” Moe cracked.
Wonderful Willie White?
“Not unless I have a vision,” Moe cracked again.
Because Moe thinks that Mike Evans is more valuable coming off the bench for short periods of time, that leaves Elston Turner, also known as E.T., as the likely starter in the backcourt alongside T.R. Dunn.
Initially, then, Moe will go with E.T. and T.R.
If that combination can somehow spell a victory for Denver, the Nuggets can climb back into a series they were nearly run out of in the first game.
On the other hand, the Lakers can take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series if they beat the Nuggets tonight at 8 in the Forum. Moe promises that the Nuggets won’t back down from their plan to run with the Lakers, even though that didn’t work real well in the first game.
“We’ve got a chance if we run,” Moe said. “If we stand around in a halfcourt game, we’re dead.”
Lever seems to be the missing ingredient in Denver’s attack. Without him, the Lakers exploited Denver’s guards, principally White and Evans, who committed 15 turnovers.
But for that matter, Laker Coach Pat Riley said he isn’t going to change either. The Lakers will still run at every opportunity, and if Lever’s not there to try to control the tempo a little bit, that’s just too bad.
Point guards are supposed to control the pace of the game, which is probably the most important part of this series. But Moe said that not even Lever could have prevented the Nuggets from getting pasted in Game 1.
“If we had Fat and 10 more like him, we would still have gotten our tails kicked,” he said.
There may be some good news coming up for the Nuggets. Lever ran layup drills during practice Sunday and Monday, and may even dress for tonight’s game. Even so, Moe said there is no way Lever will play, until possibly Game 3 Friday night in Denver.
Riley isn’t as certain.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out there in the pregame warmups,” Riley said.
That would be a very rapid recovery. Lever had an arthroscopic examination of his left knee only last Monday and will be checked again today.
Lever said his knee feels much better, but he doesn’t think he can help much right now.
“If we were playing any other team besides the Lakers, I’d definitely play Friday night, but if I went in now, I wouldn’t be a factor because I can’t run with them,” Lever said.
Besides his ability to jog in practice, there are other indications that Lever’s knee is healing. His stitches fell out Monday night while he was in bed.
When Moe heard that, he tried to cheer up Lever.
“After the stitches fall out, then your leg falls off,” Moe said.
Lever smiled, but the mess the Nuggets are in isn’t very funny. Not if they hope to prolong their season.
“We just don’t have too much time for me to get healthy,” Lever said. “This will be two games already. The way the Lakers are playing, it doesn’t look like this thing will last seven games.”
Turner is getting his third starting assignment of the season, but his first in the playoffs. In his other two starts, Turner played off-guard and small forward.
“And now, I’m the point guard,” he said. “This gives me a chance to show my versatility. I can handle the ball well enough, I think.”
Whatever combination the Nuggets try to take up the slack for Lever, Magic Johnson said it won’t matter if the Lakers play as they have been.
“Whether he plays or not, we just have to do our job,” Johnson said. “I’m sure Fat’s not going to put his career on the line to come back too soon.”
Laker forward Larry Spriggs, whose nose was accidentally broken by Calvin Natt in Game 1, practiced Monday wearing a facemask. . . . Wayne Cooper, who got a bruised rib when Mike McGee elbowed him in Game 1, is OK for Game 2, but guard Mike Evans is complaining of a sore knee. . . . Denver Coach Doug Moe believes that the Nuggets can win the series, even if Lafayette (Fat) Lever doesn’t play. “But I’m the eternal optimist,” he said. “If we can just make the Lakers lose a little bit of confidence. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.”
The Lakers are 39-5, including playoffs, since Feb. 1 and have won 23 consecutive home games, counting six playoff games. . . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar needs 146 more points to pass Jerry West as the NBA’s leading playoff scorer. West had 4,457. . . . Kurt Rambis said the defense can never rest against Denver’s Alex English and Natt. “Their offense is in such perpetual motion, you never get a break,” he said. “Like when we go to Kareem, the guys on the other side can catch their breath. But you can’t against Natt and English.” . . . Tonight’s game is sold out.