It was only a whim, a gesture to the fans, when Dallas Coach Dick Motta started the much-traveled, 7-0 Wallace Bryant at center against Denver Feb. 3.
The move may yet prove to be a stroke of genius. The Mavericks are making a charge in the hot Midwest Division race, but it's difficult to figure what Bryant's part in it has been.
In his first nine games, Bryant, who played at USF, in Italy and with the Chicago Bulls, was just about the most unproductive starting center in NBA history.
He played 146 minutes, scored 10 points (sinking 5 of 19 shots) and pulled down just 19 rebounds.
But Saturday night at Kansas City, Bryant found his touch. In 22 minutes, he scored 8 points (on 4-of-5 shooting) and had 7 rebounds as the Mavericks romped past the Kings, 121-98. It was the Mavericks' fourth win in a row and left them only 3 1/2 games out of first place.
In his brief earlier appearances, Bryant became a darling of the Dallas fans. Motta made it clear Bryant didn't earn the job--it was awarded to him.
"As long as he stays within the realm of what we want him to do and I stay intrigued with him, he'll be the starting center," Motta said. "I can't read the future."
Saturday's game was never close. The Mavericks made their first five shots and 13 of their first 18 to jump ahead, 26-12, and were never headed.
The Mavericks have complained about not having a center since their inception. The 7-foot "phantom" may be the answer.
He has scored points in only four of the 10 games he has started, but the Mavericks are 7-3 and beginning to think of Bryant as a good luck charm.
Washington 123, Houston 115--The Bullets' backcourt pair of Gus Williams and Jeff Malone shot the weary Rockets into submission at Houston.
The Rockets, playing their fourth game in five nights, couldn't keep up with Washington. Williams scored 30 points, 26 in the first three quarters, and Malone had 28.
Several Rockets were bothered by the flu, especially Ralph Sampson, who scored only 14 points.
Cleveland 128, Milwaukee 106--Even though the Cavaliers were without World B. Free, their leading scorer, and Lonnie Shelton, and even though they lost center Mel Turpin with a sprained ankle in the third quarter, they still overwhelmed the Bucks at Richfield, Ohio.
Free has a back injury and Shelton was absent because of the death of his mother. Yet, the Cavaliers scored their biggest winning margin of the season against the Central Division leaders, who had won five in a row.
Johnny Davis had 23 points, and seven other Cavaliers were in double figures.
New Jersey 111, Detroit 103--Buck Williams had 25 points and 20 rebounds at Pontiac, Mich. to lead the Nets to their eighth win in the last 11 games.
Although Isiah Thomas returned to the lineup after missing a game with a bruised thigh, the Pistons, far below top physical condition, have lost eight of their last 10 games.
Chicago 140, Golden State 125--Michael Jordan scored 38 points in the first three quarters at Chicago, then sat out the rest of the game. Still, the Bulls ended a four-game losing streak with their highest point total of the season.