It will be at least two months before the Philadelphia 76ers are at full strength. They have been missing at least one starter all season long and now have several who are playing hurt.
With the physical problems and a new coach in Matt Guokas, the 76ers are just now, one-third of the way through the regular schedule, beginning to jell.
In their most impressive performance of the season, the 76ers, playing stalwart defense, came from behind Saturday night in the fourth quarter to beat the Boston Celtics, 108-102, at Philadelphia.
The 76ers trailed, 84-83, going into the last quarter, but they scored the first eight points of the quarter. The Celtics missed nine shots in a row, and the 76ers went on to win. The Celtics managed only 18 points in the fourth quarter.
The 76ers have been without starting guard Andrew Toney all season. He may be ready in February. Also missing is Toney's replacement, Sedale Threatt. He should return next month.
With the shortage of guards, Guokas has moved versatile veteran Julius Erving there. This was the fifth game Erving had started in the backcourt. The 76ers have won the last four.
However, it was the only healthy real guard, Maurice Cheeks, who led the 76ers to victory. Cheeks had 26 points and 14 rebounds. For only the second time in his pro career, Cheeks played the entire game.
"I am proud of this team," Guokas said. "We are not only missing two outstanding guards, we have three others below par. Cheeks has a sore arm, Moses (Malone) has a shoulder problem, and (Charles) Barkley has the flu. But we hung in there and won back-to-back games. That shows guts."
Kevin McHale, who always does well against the 76ers because they don't have a big forward to challenge him, scored 34 points to lead the Celtics. He also had 10 rebounds.
Larry Bird, playing all but one minute, had 29 points but made only 14 of 30 shots.
It was only the sixth loss in 28 games for the Celtics, who are 5 1/2 games ahead of the 76ers in the Atlantic Division.
Atlanta 123, Houston 122--Dominique Wilkins climaxed an impressive performance at Atlanta by sinking a three-point basket with just eight seconds remaining to hand the Rockets their 11th loss in 15 road games.
Wilkins scored a career-high 49 points, getting 16 in the last quarter to enable the Hawks to overcome a brilliant performance by the Rockets' backcourt.
Lewis Lloyd scored 34 points, while playmaker John Lucas had 29 points and 11 assists.
But the Rockets had little help from the bench. Four reserves had a total of seven points in 39 minutes.
New Jersey 102, Indiana 98--The Nets have found that a one-two punch at center can pay dividends. Mike Gminski and Darryl Dawkins have been a hot combination recently.
Dawkins scored 9 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter at Indianapolis, including a turnaround jumper with 18 seconds left that clinched the Nets' third win in a row and seventh in their last eight games.
Most of the time, one or the other is on the floor. Occasionally, against big teams, Coach Dave Wohl will have them on the court together.
Wohl has been making all the right moves. In the three-game winning streak, neither Gminski nor Dawkins has missed many shots. Gminski, the starter, is 22 for 32 and has 52 points. Coming off the bench, Dawkins is 21 for 31 and has 58 points.
San Antonio 128, Denver 118--After watching Alvin Robertson lead the Spurs to a surprisingly easy victory at Denver, Nugget Coach Doug Moe said the second-year guard would be the NBA's next superstar.
Robertson scored a career-high 41 points. He had 18 in the first half to help the Spurs build a 26-point lead.
Phoenix 115, Golden State 98--About the only thing the Suns do right these days is win. Shortly before this game at Phoenix, they learned that center James Edwards has bone spurs in his right ankle and will be out indefinitely. They were already without top scorer Walter Davis, who is undergoing treatment for substance abuse.
But Larry Nance scored 35 points and Alvan Adams 24, and the Suns won their fourth in a row and seventh in the last eight.
New York 112, Detroit 110--Pat Cummings scored 22 points at New York, including a 10-foot turnaround jumper with 11 seconds left that clinched the victory.
Trent Tucker scored a season-high 24 points for the Knicks.
Milwaukee 132, Dallas 107--Craig Hodges scored 7 of his 18 points in a 22-4 Buck spurt midway through the second quarter at Milwaukee that made it possible for the Bucks to breeze to victory.
Chicago 117, Utah 104--George Gervin scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter at Chicago to enable the Bulls to break open a close game. Adrian Dantley, the league's leading scorer, was held to 20 points.
Portland 114, Seattle 97--Jerome Kersey came off the bench in the fourth quarter at Seattle to score 15 points and lead the Trail Blazers, who trailed, 77-69, after three quarters to a 45-point quarter and the victory.
The Blazers' second unit played most of the last quarter.