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THE NBA : Can You Say, MVP? So Far, It’s Robinson

Midseason nears and here’s one version of the races:

MVP--1) David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs. Larry Brown used to fret that Robinson was only scratching the surface, but he has tapped the mother lode. 2) Bernard King, Washington Bullets. His agonizing comeback from knee surgery would be considered miraculous only by people who don’t know him. A thorny guy but he should have his picture in the dictionary under competitor. 3) Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls. General principles. 4) Magic Johnson, Lakers. See Jordan.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR--1) Derrick Coleman, New Jersey Nets. Needs to grow up, but Indiana General Manager Donnie Walsh says he’s the best young power forward since Karl Malone and Roy Tarpley. 2) Dennis Scott, Orlando Magic. A personal favorite, because many general managers think he can’t play, but what a shooter! May be the best long-range big man ever to enter the league. Leads NBA in three-pointers and makes 40% of them, a top-10 mark. As a rookie, Larry Bird made 58 three-pointers--fewer than Scott has now.

ROOKIE OF (he can fill in the year)--Shaquille O’Neal, sophomore, Louisiana State. NBA coaches can’t stop drooling.

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COACH OF THE YEAR--Wes Unseld, Bullets. Haywoode Workman? Charles Jones? Unseld is going to ruin the rebuilding project by making the playoffs and missing the lottery. His guys play like demons.

STEAL OF THE DRAFT--1) Negele Knight, Phoenix Suns. 2) Cedric Ceballos, Suns. Both second-round picks.

STICKUP OF THE DECADE--1) Xavier McDaniel, Suns, acquired for Eddie Johnson, 32, and two draft picks. 2) Armon Gilliam, Philadelphia 76ers, acquired for Mike Gminski, 31. 3) Danny Ainge, Portland Trail Blazers, acquired for Byron Irvin, since traded.

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR--Lowell (Cotton) Fitzsimmons, Suns.

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EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR, reverse order--27) Al Bianchi, soon-to-be-former general manager, Knicks, for generally managing to ruin a team around Patrick Ewing. 26) George Shinn, owner, Charlotte Hornets, who drafted North Carolina’s J.R. Reid, had to be talked out of acquiring Virginia’s Ralph Sampson and gave up Gilliam for Duke’s Gminski. He should have bought a team in the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of the NBA.

MOST IMPROVED--1) Tim Hardaway, Golden State Warriors. Laker Coach Mike Dunleavy says he’s already in Kevin Johnson’s class. 2) Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks. At the mid-point of his career, the Human Highlight Film suddenly discovers passing, rebounding and his teammates. Never in the top 20 in anything but scoring this late in the season, he ranks in rebounding and three-point shooting.

Teams of interest in the West:

TRAIL BLAZERS--Big, strong, fast, balanced and deep. Did they peak too early? If that’s their worst problem, 26 coaches would trade theirs for it.

SPURS--They are young, frisky and the only top team with a dominating center. However, their bench and outside shooting are suspect. Denver’s up-for-grabs Walter Davis might mean as much here as Ainge did in Portland, but General Manager Bob Bass says he can’t work a deal. If he does, as the Lakers Brothers say in that razor ad, beeg problema.

LAKERS--They can beat anyone on a given night--and have--but do they have the legs for the long haul? Right now, they have to separate themselves from the Suns and Jazz. Vlade Divac, scolded onward by his teammates, has rallied, but if Terry Teagle can’t give them something, they are a six-man team. Jerry West is going over NBA rosters with a magnifying glass.

SUNS--Kevin Johnson, McDaniel, all the depth in the world. They score 118 a game, but they have a tendency to trade baskets. Better defense and their chances are as good as anyone’s.

JAZZ--Six-man team with an offensive non-factor at center, but Jeff Malone makes them better, too.

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CLIPPERS--Don’t look now, but they are neck-and-neck with the Timberwolves. Last spring’s affair was billed as the Last Lottery Party, but Donald Sterling had better dust off the lawn furniture. The Clippers still seem directionless, with no certainty about who the center will be (no negotiations yet for free agent-to-be Benoit Benjamin), or the point guard, or where Danny Manning is headed. Coach Mike Schuler threw off his Mr. Nice Guy mantle last week after a somnolent loss to the hustling Bullets, branding players’ optimistic quotes “lip service” and vowing: “I’m not going to be the scapegoat for this.”

NBA Notes

Promotion of the year: San Antonio’s halftime pinata bash for $250 cash, in which a likeness of an opposing player is pasted onto the pinata. All-Narcissist first-teamer Karl Malone saw himself on one, stole it, took it to the locker room and had a private bash of his own. The Spurs’ fun-loving publicity department put out a release on it, adding that the Mailman wouldn’t get the $250. Utah Coach Jerry Sloan called the incident, “Unprofessional . . . degrading.” . . . In a related development, the Spurs routed the Jazz by 20 in their Midwest showdown.

Bad idea: Before the rematch four days later in Salt Lake City, Richard Cervera, head of the sponsoring restaurant, sent Malone a hand-delivered letter, claiming that in Mexican tradition it was an honor to appear on a pinata and complaining of “unprovoked assault of private property.” The Mailman then staged an unprovoked assault on the Spurs, going for 32 points and 18 rebounds in a 22-point romp.

Boo-hoo: Milwaukee Coach Del Harris got so hoarse screaming at the officials during the Bucks’ 110-97 loss at Chicago, he sent assistant Frank Hamblen to meet the press and complain about the officiating. Milwaukee publicist Bill King, sitting on the press table, yelled to ref Ed T. Rush: “You’re losing control of the game!” . . . Counting playoffs, the Bucks have lost nine in a row at Chicago, so they must have gotten a lot of bad officiating, indeed.

Charlotte Hornet General Manager Allan Bristow: “One of these expansion teams is going to get a franchise player and turn it around, and everybody’s going to say that franchise did it the best way. Let’s say Joe Blow from LSU--and I use that school purposely--goes to Miami. Everybody will hold a parade for (Heat co-owner) Billy Cunningham.” . . . Bristow might have named the pro team purposely, too. The Heat has done the best job of gathering nurturing prospects (Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, Glen Rice, Alec Kessler and Willie Burton). . . . If Joe Blow --a.k.a. Shaquille O’Neal--goes to Charlotte, Bristow will have to move that 31-year-old, $1.3-million-a-year center he got for 26-year-old Armon Gilliam.

Denver Coach Paul Westhead, on junking his Swiss-cheese press: “It’s another way to climb the mountain. I gave them an easy ladder, but they decided they wanted to go up by rope.”. . . Nugget General Manager Bernie Bickerstaff apologized to fans after a wipeout by Houston without Akeem Olajuwon, and owner Peter Bynoe gave Westhead a vote of confidence. . . . Hot Rod Williams refused a Cleveland Cavalier request to restructure his $5-million salary to facilitate a trade. “The Cavs said they could trade me to Minnesota, as if that was supposed to scare me,” Williams said. “Well, I already have winter coats.”


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