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The NBA / Sam McManis : Anderson Earns Spurs but Probably Won’t Get Rookie Award

Accustomed to losing by now, forward Willie Anderson of the San Antonio Spurs already has reconciled himself to probably losing the voting for National Basketball Assn. rookie of the year to guard Mitch Richmond of the Golden State Warriors, despite comparable statistics.

“Let’s face it, Mitch has had a better year than any other rookie,” Anderson said. “He’s scored more. And, another thing is, his team is winning. I have no problem with it. Mitch is my friend.”

Richmond certainly would seem to be deserving. The Warrior guard began the week ranking 16th in the league scoring race with a 22.1-point average. He most likely will finish with the highest rookie scoring average in four seasons.

“People notice Mitch the most because he scores a lot of points,” Anderson said. “The main thing (the voting reporters look) at is points, not the all-around game.

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“I’d think if our ballclub was even close to .500, I’d have a legitimate chance to get it. But (Richmond’s) team is winning, and mine’s not. I have no hard feelings about it.”

Anderson, a 6-foot-7 forward from the University of Georgia, has quietly put together a consistent, well-rounded game. Not that it is being noticed much, since the 19-52 Spurs are routinely buried.

Going into tonight’s game between the Spurs and the 13-58 Miami Heat, Anderson is averaging 18.4 points, five rebounds and 4.3 assists a game. He also has played 33 minutes a game, a record for a Spur rookie, and is one steal away from passing Alvin Robertson’s record of 127 as a rookie in 1984-85. In another season, on another team, that might make Anderson the leading candidate for rookie honors.

But, whereas Richmond has had an easy transition, playing in Coach Don Nelson’s system at Golden State where Chris Mullin primarily is responsible for the scoring and Winston Garland the ballhandling, Anderson mostly has had to go it alone in San Antonio.

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With little offensive help, almost no leadership from veteran players, and a coach, Larry Brown, who has feuded with some players, Anderson admitted that it has been a frustrating season.

Spending part of last weekend in Los Angeles, Anderson’s talent was overshadowed by the Spurs’ two latest losses. He scored 17 points in a blowout by the Lakers and 24 in a narrow loss to the Clippers. “Very frustrating, man,” Anderson said. “The way things have gone, you try not to carry a (losing) attitude into the game. It’s especially tough, because we thought we had a pretty good team coming into the season.

“I try not to think about how bad we’ve been. You can’t accept losing, but you can’t expect to go too far without a big guy in the middle.”

Next season, that big guy will be 7-foot David Robinson, the first overall pick in the 1987 draft whose active-duty commitment to the Navy will end in time for the 1989-90 season.

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So, Spur hopes for better things depend largely on Robinson and continued success by Anderson.

With nothing else but the draft lottery to look forward to, Anderson already is thinking how his role on the team will change when Robinson arrives. For one thing, Anderson said he would like to move from small forward back to shooting guard, his position in college, and maybe even become a sixth man.

“Next year, I’d like to come off the bench,” Anderson said. “I’ll ask to do that. With (Robinson) coming in, a lot of people’s roles will change. I don’t particularly like starting as a small forward, and I could come in off the bench and replace Alvin (Robertson).

“Having Robinson will open up our perimeter shooting. Right now, we don’t have a good inside game, and teams are defending our guards.”

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So, Anderson will play out the season, most likely finish second to Richmond in the rookie voting and wait for the Spurs’ ship--with Robinson aboard--to come in.

“It’s been an interesting year,” Anderson said. “I’ve learned a lot. I sort of wish I could have been in a situation like (Richmond’s). I’ve had to play a lot right away, learn things quickly on my own, and we’ve lost a lot of games.”

Maybe they will catch a Wayne Newton show: Doug Moe, Denver’s unconventional coach, plans to house his team in Las Vegas, instead of Los Angeles, on a day off before a game against the Lakers on April 18. The Nuggets will arrive in Los Angeles on game day.

The reason? Too many distractions in Los Angeles.

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Apparently, Moe believes that Las Vegas will have a calming effect on his team. He came up with the idea after the Nuggets lost their second straight game to the Clippers in Los Angeles.

But Moe also is a self-described gambler. His preference is for the dog tracks in rural Colorado.

The Washington Bullets have signed forward Bernard King, who would have been an unrestricted free agent after this season, to a contract extension reportedly calling for $3 million for two seasons.

King, who has resurrected his career in Washington after recovering from a torn knee ligament that required surgery similar to Danny Manning’s, probably could have received a more lucrative offer through free agency. But he said that loyalty toward the Bullets, who took a chance signing him three seasons ago, prompted him to agree to terms.

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Bullet guard Darrell Walker, a teammate of King’s in New York before the knee injury, said that King has come almost all the way back from the injury.

“There’s no way he can ever be 100% after that operation,” Walker said. “He knows that better than anybody and has adjusted to that. But he’s at least 75% to 80%, and that’s better than a lot of players in the league. He can still make those moves; he’s just not as explosive. He can still run the court. That hasn’t changed.”

King is the Bullets’ leading scorer with a 21.3 average.

NBA Notes

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Another in a series of of NBA-travel horror stories: Last Tuesday, the Seattle SuperSonics’ flight, leaving Salt Lake City for Houston was four hours late. The reason was burned food on board the plane. SuperSonic players went directly to the game less than an hour before tipoff, while Coach Bernie Bickerstaff and his staff arrived during introductions after checking in at the hotel, showering and briefly going over game strategy. Without pregame instruction, Seattle made 57% of their shots in the first half. After receiving guidance from the coaching staff, the SuperSonics lost, 120-117. “This was unreal,” forward Michael Cage said. “Teams should not have to play under these conditions.” . . . Last week, New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing made 18 of 25 shots against the Charlotte Hornets, who chose not double-team the Knicks’ center. “I don’t know what they were thinking,” Knick forward Gerald Wilkins told Newsday. “I saw the one on one and I said, ‘Are they serious?’ ” Dick Harter, Hornet coach, defended his strategy. “He’s beaten us when we’ve doubled him,” Harter said. “He’s beaten us when we didn’t. He’s a superior player. No, he’s the best in the game.”

Coach Jerry Reynolds of the Sacramento Kings said that his pick as the league’s most valuable player is point guard Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers, which might surprise supporters of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, et al. “There’s a rule that little bitty guys won’t get it, but (Price) is deserving as anybody,” Reynolds said. “He’s not as good a passer as John Stockton, but he’s a better offensive player. He’s so quick you need a brick to smack him upside the head to stop him.”. . . Even after a three-game winning streak, the Miami Heat is ridiculed in public. The latest incident happened on an airplane heading to Indianapolis. The Heat had won three straight and the players were loudly celebrating. Eventually, the pilot made the following announcement: “To the Heat players. Settle down or we’re going to have to take this plane to Boston or Chicago so you can play a real team.”


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