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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Losing Brings Out Best / Worst in the Pistons

Sad Boys: Are the two-time defending champion Detroit Pistons merely in a slump and road-weary?

Or could they be losing the chemistry they have sustained so long?

When they lost six times in seven games, strains showed. After three defeats, Coach Chuck Daly said he wasn’t going to jump off a building. After three more, he may be reconsidering.

Free agent-to-be John Salley is miffed that the team won’t negotiate. Bill Laimbeer, who has to be talked out of retiring annually, is grumpier than ever. Mark Aguirre is Mark Aguirre.

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Aguirre, yanked in Sacramento, came to the bench yelling, “Don’t treat me like . . . ! Don’t treat me like . . . !”

Daly confronted two reporters who had mentioned the placement/stashing of rookie Mark Hughes on the injured list with “minor curvature of the spine.”

Said Daly: “I’ll close practice to you guys if you keep doing that stuff. How’d you like that?”

If this is more than a slump, you can imagine the consternation among the many friends the Pistons have made throughout the game.

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Add friends: Laimbeer said his former coach at Notre Dame, Digger Phelps, was “shell-shocked” at making the 1978 Final Four, setting up a loss to Duke.

Responded Phelps: “Mike Gminski had an outstanding game against us. . . . Check out who guarded him.”

Phelps also noted that when the Irish lost in the ’79 tournament to Michigan State, “It wasn’t Magic Johnson that beat us. It was Greg Kelser. . . . Check out who guarded him.”

Laimbeer guarded both. Gminski outscored him, 29-7, and Kelser, 34-7.

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Sin of pride: Of all the impressive things Portland has done, none tops its game against the Bulls in Chicago, where the Trail Blazers, playing the fourth game of a five-day trip, won handily.

Said ever-emboldened Coach Rick Adelman: “One man won’t hurt us. We’re too good a team.

“People said wait till we go on the road. Hey, but look at us now. . . . We can win anywhere.”

Five days later, they lost to the Kings in Sacramento.

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The Seattle SuperSonics must have an explanation for trading Xavier McDaniel to the Phoenix Suns for Eddie Johnson. Rebuilding? Brain-lock?

They wanted to move Derrick McKey to X’s small forward spot and Shawn Kemp to big forward. In three games after the deal, Kemp averaged 22 points and nine rebounds, McKey 20 and seven.

Of course, in the fourth game, they combined for only 19 points and 10 rebounds. The jury is still out.

Said SuperSonic General Manager Bob Whitsitt: “It’s not like someone offered me $100 . . . and someone offered $5 and I said, ‘Uh, I’d rather have $5.’ This was the only deal we could make. You have no idea how many (general managers) talk and talk and won’t pull the trigger.”

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Said McDaniel: “I was the one that had to go. Dale (Ellis) has some marketability, but with some of the stuff he’s doing, not too many people are interested.”

The last word on the trade, from Phoenix’s sly fox.

Says Cotton Fitzsimmons: “I know a lot of teams in the West didn’t appreciate it. . . . I didn’t appreciate it when the Lakers got (Terry) Teagle and (Sam) Perkins. I didn’t appreciate it when the Jazz got Jeff Malone. I didn’t appreciate it when the Spurs got Paul Pressey and Portland got Danny Ainge.”

After the deal, the Suns went 4-0.

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NBA Notes

Postcards from the very edge: After the Indiana Pacers’ road record dropped to 0-11 with General Manager Donnie Walsh along to look things over, Coach Dick Versace said: “We’re fine. We’re fine. I guarantee you we’ll be a .500 team and we’ll make the playoffs.” . . . In Miami, no-shows are plentiful despite reported sellouts, and fans are booing. Said Heat Coach Ron Rothstein: “We’re going to do as well as we can, and I’ll work at my job as hard as I can. Whatever happens, happens.”

You can’t be sure the Kings’ upset of Portland will win Sacramento Coach Dick Motta any breathing room. He was ejected in the second quarter. . . . Magic Johnson is chairman of the Starlight Foundation’s March 16 benefit dinner honoring Janet Jackson at the Century Plaza. The foundation grants wishes of seriously ill children. For details, call (213) 208-5885. . . . Jump ball of the year: Denver’s 5-foot-10 Michael Adams vs. the Charlotte Hornets’ 5-3 Muggsy Bogues. Said Nugget broadcaster Dan Issel: “This will be the first time the referee drops the ball.” Adams won.

When the Boston Celtics led by 11 points at halftime in San Antonio, Spur Coach Larry Brown went off with a bang. Said Sean Elliott: “His face was red. His veins were bulging. I’ve never heard him yell as much since--well, since last year when he was always yelling at me.” The Spurs won. . . . Washington guard Darrell Walker, six for 87 on three-point shots in his career, asked why he tried one in a tight spot at Denver: “I was open.” The Bullets lost.

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Name this star: His team lost a key starter but got off to a fast start anyway. Asked why, he said, “Because of me.” Right, Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers. . . . Flight attendant to Utah’s Andy Toolson, a rookie guard from Brigham Young who asked for apple juice: “I’m sorry but I think the basketball players drank it all.” . . . The Dallas Mavericks’ Rolando Blackman, on the post-Roy Tarpley slide: “The pillars of the house are coming down, and I’m just trying not to get hit by any bricks.”


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