Although most of the talk this season has been about the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, in truth, contention runs deep in the Eastern Conference.
The Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls, with Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan, respectively, are sure to make a strong bid for the championship.
But the sleeper in the East may be the Milwaukee Bucks. With the departure of Coach Don Nelson two years ago, many thought the Bucks would start to fade away.
On the contrary, they are one of the best teams in the National Basketball Assn.
Although their leading scorer, Terry Cummings, was out with a viral infection, the Bucks, led by Ricky Pierce, beat the Cavaliers, 113-105, in overtime Saturday night at Milwaukee. The Bucks were also without Paul Pressey, who has a sprained ankle.
Pierce, moved to starting forward in the absence of Cummings, scored 29 points, seven in overtime, as the Bucks dropped the Cavaliers a game behind Detroit, the Central Division leader.
“The good ballclubs find a way to win, especially when two starters are out,” said Pierce, who has been a starter in only the last two games. “I don’t care whether I start or come in off the bench. I just want to play.”
The Bucks rallied from an early 13-point deficit.
With a 43-23 record, the surprising Bucks, who won only 42 games all last season, have the third-best record in the East.
Atlanta 115, New York 108--Are the Knicks starting to panic? Only 22 days after undergoing arthroscopic surgery, Mark Jackson returned to the starting lineup in this game at New York.
The Knicks had lost two games in a row, one of them to Miami. But Jackson, a little rusty, was only six for 15 and had nine assists in 27 minutes. Wilkins and Moses Malone led the Hawks’ offense as they handed the Knicks their third loss in 33 home games.
Houston 144, Golden State 104--A sieve has finally developed in the defense of Don Nelson’s surprising basketball team.
In their last two games, both defeats, the Warriors have given up 298 points. Phoenix had 154 Thursday night.
Although he played only 27 minutes, Akeem Olajuwon led the Rocket romp with 24 points and 15 rebounds at Houston.
Chicago 111, Seattle 110--The Bulls completed a sweep of a four-game trip through the Pacific Division when Scottie Pippen made a three-point shot with five seconds left at Seattle.
In five nights, the Bulls beat the Lakers, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Jordan, despite a groin injury, played a major role in all the victories and continues to adjust to the role of playmaker. In this one he had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.
Dale Ellis, who scored 30 points, made a jumper to give the Sonics a 110-108 lead with 20 seconds to play. Pippen’s shot gave him 31 points and the Bulls a 41-26 record.
Utah 112, Denver 90--Karl Malone had 22 of his 37 points in the first half at Salt Lake City, but the Jazz broke the game open in the third quarter to end the Nuggets’ five-game losing streak.
In their last two games, the Jazz has beaten the two teams closest to them in the Midwest Division and lead Houston by 5 1/2 games.
Washington 111, Indiana 108--If the Bullets have any chance to overtake the Boston Celtics for the last playoff spot in the East, they can’t afford to lose any home games.
Ledell Eackles and Bernard King sank the key baskets as the Bullets had to come from behind for their 11th consecutive home victory.
Eacklesimade a layup with 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, then made another in overtime to raise the Bullets’ lead to 110-104 with two minutes left in overtime. King had 26 points, including eight in the third quarter and four more in overtime.
With 15 games remaining, eight of them at home, the Bullets trail the Celtics by 2 1/2 games.
Detroit 113, Charlotte 101--The soaring Pistons won this game at Charlotte, N.C., just about as they pleased.
Bill Laimbeer made eight of his nine shots, and the Pistons were off to a fast start, winning their fourth in a row and 13th in their last 14.
Although he played only 29 minutes, he had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Miami 107, San Antonio 105--Pearl Washington had two baskets and two assists in an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter that helped the Heat win their third game in their last four at home.
It was only the 12th victory for the expansion team.
Sacramento 106, Portland 105--Although the injury-riddled Dallas Mavericks have lost nine games in a row, the Trail Blazers are letting them stay in the race for the final playoff spot in the West.
Danny Ainge had 21 points, including five three-pointers, at Sacramento to help build a 14-point lead, and the Kings just lasted.