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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Team May Be Good, but Reviews Aren’t

TIMES STAFF WRITER

R-e-s-p-e-c-t: Which Eastern power rates these glowing reviews?

--From Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers: “Take (mystery team’s superstar) off them, and who do they have? Really? Who the hell do they have over there? Nobody.”

--From Chuck Person, Indiana, after mystery team read Reggie’s quotes and stomped the Pacers in retaliation, after which Person was ejected, kicked the ball into the stands and was fined heavily: “We can beat (mystery team) and they know it. They definitely don’t want to meet us in the playoffs.”

--From Doc Rivers, Atlanta Hawks, after mystery team scorched them by 35 points: “They may have the best record in the league, but as far as I’m concerned the (Boston) Celtics have the best team.”

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--From Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets: “They’re not that strong a team.”

They’re talking trash about the Chicago Bulls. It’s unusual for players to get down on any team that doesn’t have Rick Mahorn or Bill Laimbeer or come from New York, so why is everyone bombing the Bulls?

Well, at first glance, the Bulls do look anemic.

Great teams are supposed to have top point guards, quality centers, manly power forwards.

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The Bulls have slow John Paxson; Bill Cartwright, who is more menace than dominator, and the willowy Horace Grant.

Great teams are supposed to have deep benches.

The Bulls have more clowns than Barnum & Bailey. Select your favorite from: Stacey King, Dennis Hopson, Will Perdue, Cliff Levingston, B.J. Armstrong and Craig Hodges.

Great teams are supposed to be harmonious.

The Bulls alternate ripping General Manager Jerry Krause but turn on each other in tough times--such as two-game losing streaks--with Grant and Scottie Pippen even daring to suggest a resentment of (sound of trumpets) Michael Jordan.

Someone must be missing something, right?

Right.

Says an Eastern Conference general manager: “People who say they’re not that good are looking at the wrong thing. Defensively, I think they’re good. They’ve got unbelievable quickness.

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“If you look at their defense, Scottie Pippen becomes a good player. Horace Grant becomes a good player. Bill Cartwright, no matter what people say, is a good post defender. They can play that hawking defense that sets up their offense. What that doesn’t get, Jordan gets.”

Maybe Jordan’s greatness is such that he doesn’t require the normal complement of helpers?

Can it be at this late date that he’s overcommercialized but underrated?

Not since Jerry West has there been a player so good at both ends of the floor. Jordan is Dominique Wilkins, crossed with Larry Bird and Dennis Rodman.

Of course, there is the little matter of Jordan’s ego. He wears it well but he has one. The Bulls were supposed to be going to a more-distributed offense, but guess who’s heading for his fifth scoring title in a row?

“I heard Jordan hated the offense,” the general manager from the East says. “He went to (Coach) Phil Jackson and said, ‘Let me have the first quarter to do what I want.’ After the first quarter, they run the offense.”

“Jordan isn’t Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. I think they go into a game knowing they’re going to get a lot of attention, so they’re going to get the ball to other people.

“I think Jordan goes into a game looking to score. He’s going to do it and then get the ball to other people. He wants to score.”

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Last add Bulls: They have one advantage over everyone--they figure to have the home court throughout the playoffs and they’re the NBA’s best at home, 31-4 after an 0-2 start.

And our guest expert general manager, on Pippen: “To me, on any other team he doesn’t approach being an All-Star.”

Spit hits fan, literally, or Charles, what are we going to do with you?

Last week in New Jersey, the 76ers’ Charles Barkley spit at a courtside heckler but got the 8-year-old daughter of a season ticket-holder instead.

Barkley was cavalier about it at first, profuse in his regrets later--"I can’t even begin to apologize because that’s not good enough"--or, in other words, the same as always. The NBA fined him $10,000 and suspended him for one game, another $35,365 of his $2.9-million salary.

So far this season, Barkley has joked about wife-beating, apologized for the remark, been summoned to NBA headquarters to be warned about abusive behavior toward fans, engaged in a fight with teammate Manute Bol, been fined $5,000 for yelling at Coach Jim Lynam and now this.

It isn’t exactly an MVP season, but it does deserve to be memorialized.

How about a month off without pay?

Exile to Sacramento?

A spanking?

Now that a first-place finish has all but formally dropped from the Laker agenda:

What to expect in the playoffs?

The Lakers are good enough.

Their problem is they are not deep enough.

The teams to pick in the ordeal that will be the West playoffs are the division winners--the only ones who won’t have to meet a 50-game winner in the first round.

The Laker hope will be that they can rediscover their midseason defense. Otherwise, adios.

And now for a salute to the hottest team in the rough-tough Pacific Division.

It’s not the Portland Trail Blazers, Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Golden Warriors, Seattle SuperSonics or Sacramento Kings but the . . .

Clippers.

They are 12-9 since the Olden Polynice-Benoit Benjamin deal. The season is six months old, but we knew if we hung in there, we could say something nice about them.

NBA Notes

Tigers: Charles Barkley’s former Auburn teammate, Chuck Person of the Pacers, also succumbs regularly to the power of the dark side, but never so telegenically as when he ran amok after his ejection in Chicago. Person kicked the basketball into the stands, narrowly missing (Bull Coach) Phil Jackson’s wife. When it bounced back, he kicked it almost into Chicago Stadium’s first balcony, an estimated 35 yards, and he didn’t get to tee it up, either. . . . Says a general manager: “I’ve never known an Auburn guy who wasn’t a head case.”

Rockets’ red glare: don’t look now, but they are headed for the top spot in the Midwest Division. . . . Said Houston’s Kenny Smith, after the upset victory at Chicago: “This guy asked me if a win tonight would mean we’re for real. I stopped and laughed. I asked him if the real question should be if a win tonight by Chicago would mean the Bulls are for real.” . . . Eric (Streaky) Floyd: The Rocket reserve guard has had eight games over 25 points, 32 under 10. He has shot more than 60% on 13 occasions and failed to shoot 33% in 32 games.

Utah Jazz assistant Scott Layden, denying he’ll join former boss Dave Checketts in New York: “Do you think I’m leaving this clean mountain air for the Lincoln Tunnel?” . . . Never give a sucker an even break: Pleading the disadvantage of its brand new, donated-by-the-city but small arena, the Miami Heat, 45-180 in three seasons, is raising ticket prices. . . . A year ago, one month before its first season ended, the Orlando Magic gave season ticket-holders four weeks to renew, demanding 50% of the money up front.

Seattle is 9-10 since acquiring Benoit Benjamin and declaring itself championship material. The SuperSonics talk of unfamiliarity with each other, but after blowing a 24-point lead in the second half against Portland, Nate McMillan said: “We knew what to do. This being a new group together doesn’t matter. We knew what we were doing in the first half. You don’t forget that fast.” . . . Boston newspaper headline, when Coach Chris Ford vowed to limit media privileges after a TV station reported that teammates were upset at Larry Bird’s shot selection: “Chris Cross.”

Weak denial of the week: San Antonio’s Terry Cummings, quoted by NBC’s Peter Vecsey as calling Larry Brown “the most negative coach I’ve ever had,” said “I don’t remember” saying it. Cummings apologized to Brown, however, presumably on the assumption he might have blacked out and blurted something like that.


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