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The NBA / Sam McManis : Point Is, Fewer Points for Point Guard Jordan

Arbiters of National Basketball Assn. fashion need not worry. Michael Jordan still wears those designer sneakers, still slips into those oversized shorts and, off the court, maintains the look that enabled him to grace the cover of the current Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine.

All the same, there will be a noticeable change in Jordan tonight when he leads the Chicago Bulls into the Forum to play the Lakers. Once the embodiment of the term shooting guard , Jordan has spent much of his time at point guard the last five games.

Reviews of Jordan’s new role generally have been positive and the Bulls are 3-2 since the change.

Although he is shooting less and his scoring average has fallen slightly, Jordan still is logging impressive numbers. In the last five games, he has averaged 25.6 points, 12 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and has made 52.2% of his shots while averaging 38.6 minutes a game.

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Gone--or, at least, temporarily set aside--are those 50-point games. Instead, Jordan has put up some statistics that would satisfy Magic Johnson.

Last Monday against Indiana, for example, Jordan scored 21 points, had 14 assists and 14 rebounds. He had a triple-double two minutes into the second half and shot only 15 times all game. Jordan still is the focal point of the Bulls’ offense, but having him at point guard shifts the offensive focus from the low-post game with center Bill Cartwright to a running game.

Unhappy because he was not getting the ball enough, Jordan had a two-hour meeting with Coach Doug Collins about two weeks ago, at which it was agreed that being a point guard was the best way of putting the ball into Jordan’s hands.

“It’s different,” Jordan said after Monday’s practice at Loyola Mary- mount. “It changes your emphasis on the game. You have to be running everything, keep the tempo, get everybody in their right places. But it helps our fast-breaking game, and that’s the tempo and the style we want to be in.”

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Changing positions has not been a drastic change for Jordan, but he said that it will require refinement.

“I’m, by nature, an off-guard,” he said. “I have a lot more turnovers now than normally, because I’m handling the ball more. But I’m always a person who will do what he needs to do for the team to win.”

Still, there have been grumblings. Power forward Horace Grant told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday that he wants the ball more and that “Michael is the show.” And Sam Vincent, who was replaced as point guard, is not happy. “At this point in time, we should not worry about individuals, and concentrate more on the team’s success,” Jordan said. “My shots are going down. I’m not shooting as much. We’re trying to get more distribution of shots, get everyone involved in the offense.

“I want to make everybody a weapon now, so we just don’t have one weapon. Last year, in the playoffs, we were exposed, where one individual was doing all the scoring.”

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Jordan, however, is not enthusiastic about making the change permanent. “For 82 games, I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to try to see what it feels like for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. So far, we’ve done very well. But it’s a little more demanding in terms of exhaustion, and my body is very, very valuable to me.”

In beating the Lakers Sunday night at the Forum, the Atlanta Hawks showed they have the talent to contend for the championship, as many had predicted before the season.

So, why had the Hawks lost six of their previous nine games and not beaten a team with a winning record all month? Why have they dropped to fourth place in the tough Central Division? Stan Kasten, the Hawks’ general manager, tried to get answers to those questions last week. He interviewed selected Hawk players on subjects ranging from the makeup of the team to Coach Mike Fratello’s performance.

He came away with few definitive answers but renewed hope of a late-season turnaround.

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“We’re playing without confidence and enthusiasm, and I didn’t know why,” Kasten said. “But it’s pretty obvious those are the problems. We’re all in this together . . . but yeah, I’m upset. I give the players (some of) the blame. I think they deserve it. And, you know what, they tend to blame themselves.”

Kasten said few players openly blame Fratello for the Hawks’ unfulfilled expectations.

“I got criticisms like you get of anyone, but nothing big,” Kasten said. “They wish he would do some things different, like he wishes they would. I thought that was interesting. Usually, the players blame the coach. That’s the first guy they blame, even when they know they are at fault. It’s interesting to me that they are less inclined to do that.”

Mistaken identity? During a recent flight carrying the Miami Heat, a curious man approached Tony Fiorentino, an assistant coach, and asked the name of the team.

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Told it was the Heat, the man then asked how many games the team will play, to which Fiorentino replied, “82.”

“Gee,” the man said, “that’s almost a pro schedule.”

Add Heat: Were it not for the Clippers, who have lost to the Heat three times, the expansion team would still be in contention for the NBA record for fewest victories in a season. The record is nine, set by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.

But last week’s victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles gave Miami its 10th win and cause to be a tad boastful at the Clippers’ expense.

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Said forward Billy Thompson, a former Laker: “In our mind, if we can beat anybody, we can (beat) the Clippers.”

Said guard Rory Sparrow: “We look at them this way. They were last year’s last-place team. There was never any doubt we could beat them.”

And praise keeps coming in for the Heat. This from Denver Nuggets Coach Doug Moe: “Miami is tougher than Charlotte. The two expansion teams have changed positions.”

Add Nuggets: A dismal 6-25 on the road, Moe has started calling his team the “Traveling Willbeburied,” a variation of the rock group named the Traveling Wilburys.

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The Nuggets, who seemingly are assured of a Western Conference playoff spot because of their strong play at home, have lost three times this season to the woeful San Antonio Spurs and most recently on the road to Miami.

Instead of being angry, Moe calls the Nuggets charitable.

“We’ve got good guys,” Moe said. “We’re compassionate. We have feelings, and we like to help teams that are struggling.”

NBA Notes

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Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff, hospitalized last week because of exhaustion and an ulcer, is scheduled to return tonight when the SuperSonics play the Utah Jazz. One game during Bickerstaff’s absence, assistant coach Bob Kloppenburg was forced to miss a game because of an arthritic flare-up, so second assistant Tom Newell was the only available coach. Turns out, Bob Whitsitt, the team president, assumed temporary duties as assistant. “I kept stats for them,” Whitsitt said. “I once coached pee-wees. That’s the extent of my experience.” Seattle lost that game and went 1-4 during Bickerstaff’s hospitalization.

The New York Knicks’ 26-game home winning streak ended Thursday night with a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden. “It was the best thing to happen to this team,” Coach Rick Pitino said. “The thing that happened is that we were taking our home court for granted. We were under the (impression) that because we’re at home we’d win.” Some Knick players didn’t buy it. “It was fun,” center Patrick Ewing said. “I don’t ever think a loss is good or the best thing. That’s just Coach’s way of motivating us.”


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