Just about the most difficult feat in professional sports these days is to repeat as champion. In the 1980s, in major professional team sports, it has been done only in hockey.
There hasn't been a repeat in baseball since 1978. No team has won back-to-back victories in the Super Bowl since 1979. Young fans probably think it never happened in the NBA. The last time it did, in 1969, the Boston Celtics repeated with a player-coach named Bill Russell.
It is the goal of Larry Bird and the Celtics to become the first to do it since Russell. In getting ready for the playoffs, the Celtics are letting potential postseason opponents know they really mean business.
The other night the Celtics smashed the Cleveland Cavaliers, their probable opponent in the first round of the playoffs. Sunday, the Houston Rockets were given a taste of the power of the Celtics.
With their Twin Towers, Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon, looking better with almost every outing, many experts have predicted the Rockets will represent the West in the championship series.
Evidently, if the Rockets get there, they are in for a rough time.
With the incomparable Bird scoring 48 points, the Celtics took the Rockets apart in the third quarter and raced to an easy 134-120 victory at Boston. The Celtics improved the best record in the league to 54-14 and increased their lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division to 2 1/2 games.
After a slow start the Celtics held only a two-point halftime lead. But in the third quarter, the Celtics' front line of Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish scored all 32 of the team's points and the Celtics pulled away to a 100-91 lead.
Parish, who finished with 38 points, got Olajuwon in foul trouble in the third period and the rookie was ineffective the rest of the way.
It was the fifth win in a row for the Celtics and the fourth amazing performance in succession for Bird. The 6-9 forward began the streak with a club-record 60 points last Tuesday. In the four games, he scored 174 points, averaging 43.5 points per game. He sank 67-of-113 shots from the field.
"We expect Bird to play well," Coach K.C. Jones said. "But he is doing more than we have a right to expect. He's not only shooting well, he's diving for loose balls and sneaking around stealing balls on defense. His offense is the second best part of his game.
"I could see by the look in his eyes before the game that Parish was primed for a big one."
Houston Coach Bill Fitch, who coached the Celtics before taking over the Rockets prior to last season, didn't enjoy the show. "I had more fun watching them when I was coaching them," he said. "There are days no matter who we play that you realize we have no way to get it done."
San Antonio 124, Denver 119--Dan Issel became pro basketball's fourth all-time leading scorer, but his 27-point performance wasn't enough to get a victory for the Nuggets at San Antonio.
The Spurs, with guards Johnny Moore and George Gervin each scoring 23 points, held off a late Denver rally. Moore scored 10 of the Spurs' last 13 points to preserve the victory.
Issel moved past Elvin Hayes when he sank a 20-foot jumper late in the first quarter. He now has 27,337 points to Hayes' 27,313.
Chicago 119, Milwaukee 117--Michael Jordan and Steve Johnson led a rally at Chicago that wiped out a 22-point second-half deficit and enabled the Bulls to win in overtime. Jordan and Johnson each scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.
A three-point play by Sidney Moncrief with four seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime, and the Bucks led by two early in overtime. But Johnson made a layup and Quintin Dailey sank a 20-footer to give the Bulls the lead for good.
An elbow in the eye sent the Bucks' Paul Pressey out of the game in the last minute of regulation.
New Jersey 129, Indiana 105--Shortly after learning they had lost their leading scorer, Otis Birdsong, for the season with a broken hand, the Nets took out their anger on the Pacers at East Rutherford, N.J. With Buck Williams getting 29 points and 12 rebounds, the Nets led throughout.
Kansas City 107, Utah 101--Rookie Otis Thorpe had his biggest pro game in this one at Kansas City. The 6-10 forward had 25 points and 15 rebounds.
Portland 114, Atlanta 101--Kiki Vandeweghe scored 14 of his 35 points in the first quarter at Portland and the Trail Blazers made 16 of 19 shots to jump out to a 38-17 lead. Vandeweghe was 15 of 17 from the field for the game.
The loss dropped the Hawks 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the battle for the last playoff spot in the East.
Seattle 106, Detroit 98--Jon Sundvold came off the bench in the second quarter at Seattle with the SuperSonics trailing, 32-20, and scored 18 points to pace the winning rally.