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The NBA / Gordon Edes : Pistons Don’t Pick Targets Lightly

Give the Detroit Pistons credit for this much: When they decide to rumble, they don’t pick on just anybody, they take out the biggest marquee names they can find.

So far, their victims have included Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Who’s next, Magic Johnson? The Pistons probably would put a hit on Charles Barkley, too, except they know Barkley would hit back.

Last spring, Bill Laimbeer’s clothesline takedown of Boston’s Bird would have done Hulk Hogan proud. Last Saturday night, the victim was Chicago’s Jordan, who was grabbed around the neck by Piston enforcer Rick Mahorn and thrown to the floor. That touched off a fight during which Mahorn wound up throwing Chicago Coach Doug Collins over the Bulls’ bench.

That was in the third quarter. In the fourth, Jordan hit the deck again when Adrian Dantley blocked his path on a baseline drive. No fight this time, although angry words were exchanged.

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National Basketball Assn. vice president Rod Thorn has been watching plenty of fight footage lately. Last week, he fined the Houston Rockets’ Sleepy Floyd $5,000 and suspended him a game and fined the Phoenix Suns’ Jeff Hornacek $1,500 for their scrap.

On Monday, he handed out penalties in the aftermath of the Jordan affair. Mahorn was suspended for a game--Monday’s at Denver--and fined $5,000.

Chicago’s Charles Oakley was fined $2,000 for his part in the brawl, Collins was fined $1,500 for “acting as other than a peacemaker during the altercation,” and five players were nicked for $500 each--Chicago’s Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen and Granville Waiters, and Detroit’s Vinnie Johnson and John Salley.

But don’t expect the Pistons to be penitent. Just the opposite. They think the Bulls overreacted.

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“Every top player is going to take his lumps and get knocked to the floor, and I think Jordan has to learn that,” Dantley said after the game. “Do you mean you can never touch a guy? When I led the league in scoring, I used to get banged up every night, sometimes harder than Jordan was.”

Collins suggests that the league may have to legislate such incidents out of the game.

“We should start thinking about making it a stiffer penalty if the referee thinks the opposing player is going out of his way to stop a shot by deliberately either knocking the man with the ball to the floor or using an elbow or his fist,” Collins said.

Mark your calendar: The teams meet again Feb. 12.

Add Pistons: Last week, they made their first trip into Boston since the playoffs, which ended with Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman suggesting that Bird’s reputation was based on his complexion. To avoid hecklers, Rodman registered into the team’s hotel under the name of Detroit assistant coach Dick Versace. Thomas signed in as Raquel Welch.

Said teammate John Salley: “I think Isiah was Raquel because Dennis just didn’t have the legs.”

Center Mike Gminski, who went from the New Jersey Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night after a week of trade speculation, was still in a New Jersey uniform when the team played in Philadelphia three nights before.

“It was really eerie playing down there,” Gminski said. “After the game I was thinking, ‘Is the bus going to leave without me?’ Then I got on the bus and nothing happened. It was difficult, despite what the numbers showed at the end.”

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Gminski had season highs of 27 points and 17 rebounds in the Nets’ loss to the 76ers.

“If it’s to be resolved, I just hope it’s quickly,” Gminski said then. “Now I know how Harry Truman feels.”

Innocent victim: Phoenix guard Walter Davis went to the locker room to be retaped during the third quarter of the Suns’ game with the Rockets last week.

He returned to the court just in time to catch the end of the Floyd-Hornacek fight, which was interpreted by the league as being off the bench during an altercation. Davis was fined $500.

Boy Scouts, take heed: Atlanta Hawks center Tree Rollins was helping an elderly woman across the street on her way to church when he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk. He tumbled into a bush and suffered cuts on the face.

“The lady went into church like nothing happened, and I had to go home and take care of myself,” Rollins said. “I hope she said a few prayers for me.”

Gamesmanship: After Houston’s Joe Barry Carroll accused his former coach, George Karl, of having “moronic tendencies,” the Golden State coach challenged Carroll to an IQ test, or a game of Jeopardy or Scrabble. Someone suggested to Karl that they play “Wheel of Fortune.”

“I hate Wheel of Fortune,” Karl said.

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How about Candyland?

“I’m great at Candyland,” he said.

Don’t ask him to RSVP: Sacramento Kings forward Otis Thorpe declined an invitation to compete in the league’s slam-dunk competition during All-Star weekend.

“Why go if I don’t have a chance to win?” he said.

Thorpe is miffed that he won’t be voted a starter on the Western Conference All-Star team.

“At least two other teams, Denver and Utah, know how to stuff the ballot boxes,” Thorpe said. “We haven’t learned yet. It’s all political, and it’s all about stuffing ballot boxes.”

Shared pain: Golden State guard Chris Mullin is out of alcoholic rehabilitation and pointing to a return to the Warriors, perhaps by the end of the month. In the meantime, other family members are catching the fallout of his actions.

Last week, Mullin’s younger brother, Terence, was ejected from a high school game in New York. Terence punched a player who was taunting him about his brother’s problems.

When a triple-double isn’t a triple-double: Utah’s Karl Malone had 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 turnovers in the Jazz’s 124-105 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics last week.

Rush job: The officials at last week’s Knick-76er game were Ed T. Rush and Ed F. Rush.


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