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Notes on a Scorecard

Give Magic Johnson a 10 on a scale of 10 for opening performances by NBA superstars coming off retirements lasting four-and-half seasons. . . .

He still knows how to play the game. . . .

Joe Smith, the rookie who guarded him most of the time, was four years old when Johnson broke into the NBA. . . .

Smith wears No. 32 because Magic is his idol. . . .

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Johnson’s new line of shoes were supposed to make their debut at a merchandise show next week, but he wore a pair that arrived at LAX from Taiwan at 3:30 p.m. . . .

Attendance was down Tuesday night at the Magic Johnson Theaters in Baldwin Hills. . . .

The first Laker out for early warmup shooting at 5:15 p.m. was Fred Roberts, shrugging off the pain of back spasms that put him on the injured list and made room for Magic on the roster. . . .

Laker Coach Del Harris began his NBA coaching career the same year Johnson began his playing career. . . .

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“At first, we backed off on Magic and dared him to shoot,” said Harris, who was coaching the Houston Rockets in 1979. “But that didn’t work because he started to make his shots.”. . . .

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In November, Bill Walton predicted that UCLA would be a better basketball team at the end of the season than the 1994-95 national champions. . . .

Today, the Bruins are 13-5, ranked 19th and coming off a loss at Pauley Pavilion to Louisville. At the same stage last year, they were 16-2, ranked sixth and coming off a win at Washington State. . . .

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So what does Walton think now? . . .

“I think they’re better than they were last year,” he said Tuesday. “They are bigger, stronger, and, most important, they have better players.” . . .

Walton, the Hall of Famer who played for two NCAA championship teams under John Wooden, is aware that the Bruins lost player-of-the-year Ed O’Bannon and two other NBA draft choices, Tyus Edney and George Zidek. . . .

However, they have added the greatest shot blocker at UCLA since Walton in freshman Jelani McCoy. . . .

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“Jelani can be as good as he wants to be,” Walton said. “He had limited coaching at the high school level, and his teammates weren’t talented. He’s a raw player, but everything is there.” . . .

Walton says some of McCoy’s older teammates have let success go to their head. . . .

“Their problems have been self-imposed,” he said. “They spent too much time looking at themselves in the mirror over the summer and forgot how hard it is to win a second championship,” he said. . . .

He thinks the key to a repeat by the Bruins is for them to win the Pacific 10 Conference title and earn a spot in the West Regional. . . .

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He says the most talented teams he has seen this season are Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA. . . .

Another Prime Sports commentator, former USC Coach George Raveling, projects Massachusetts, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Kansas as the Final Four and ranks Texas Tech, Utah, Penn State, and Virginia Tech among the sleeper candidates. . . .

It is a sign of the times when outfielder Roberto Kelly, 32, is signed to a minor league contract by the Minnesota Twins after batting .279 in 112 games for the Dodgers last year. . . .

A lot of baseball players are still being overpaid, but many veterans on the down side of their careers no longer command high salaries. . . .

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If Kelly spends the season with the Twins, he will make $525,000. Last year, when he also played for Montreal, he made $3,733,333. . . .

Among George Raveling’s three most hated words are level playing field. “We’ve legislated intercollegiate athletics toward mediocrity,” he says.


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