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NBA PLAYOFFS : Bird Wants Lakers to Get Another Shot : Celtics' Star Figures Magic, Teammates Have Something to Prove

May 16, 1985|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Like most of his teammates, the Celtics' Larry Bird didn't know until he arrived for a workout at Boston Garden Wednesday morning that the Lakers had lost the night before to Denver.

Unlike most of his teammates, Bird, who is playing with elbow and ankle miseries, didn't predict that the Lakers would come roaring back.

"L.A. is playing better than anybody in the league right now," he said. "But they might go to Denver, lose a couple of close games and be down, 3-1. That's when the basket starts to get very small.

"Anything can happen in this stupid game. That's what makes it so good."

But don't think that Bird wishes the Lakers anything but the best.

If the Celtics have an opportunity to defend their National Basketball Assn. championship, he said there's no team he would rather face in the final than the Lakers.

"I'd like to give them the opportunity to redeem themselves," he said. "I'm sure they have guys who feel they didn't play up to their capabilities."

One of them is Magic Johnson. His mistakes in crucial situations contributed to three losses in last year's championship series, won by the Celtics in seven games.

Until then, there was no consensus on whether Bird or Magic was the NBA's best player. Bird has since emerged as the people's choice, and Magic has tried to forget.

"You think we don't love it, Magic having nightmares?" Bird said.

Then, it's unanimous.

If they can survive the series against the Nuggets, the Lakers no doubt would like to have the opportunity to redeem themselves against the Celtics.

When they were feeling a little more secure about their team's future against Denver, fans at the Forum were chanting, "We Want Boston."

Bird was told that Wednesday.

"Yeah?" he said. "They always want us until we get there."

He will get no argument from the Philadelphia 76ers, who were confident going into the Eastern Conference final series this week after a four-game sweep over Milwaukee.

Even though the Celtics had the league's best regular-season record, it seemed as though they could be had after struggling in the playoffs against Cleveland and Detroit.

But Boston played better than it had in more than a month during the first two games at Boston Garden against the 76ers, enabling the Celtics to take a 2-0 lead into Game 3 Saturday at Philadelphia.

The Celtics are winning without Bird, or at least without the same Bird who finished the regular season shooting 52.2% and averaging 28.7 points.

He scored 23 points in the first game and 24 in the second, but not until the fourth quarter of Game 2 Tuesday night, when he had 13 points, did he appear to regain his touch. His shooting percentage in this series is 43.9%.

"He's taken a couple of shots where I've said, 'Put the range factor back on that elbow,' " teammate Kevin McHale said.

He was referring to the bone chips in Bird's right elbow, which have bothered him off and on for the last two months. The injury, which may require off-season surgery, forced him to sit out a game in the opening playoff series against Cleveland.

"It was caused by the numerous times I've fallen on it," he said. "It gets so I can't move it. It locked up on me in Cleveland, but after two or three days, it felt better."

Bird said it has felt fine since, refusing to use it as an alibi for his poor shooting.

Those around him know better, but that's the way Bird is.

"When Larry tells me he's not getting the job done, I'll go from concerned to worried," Celtics Coach K.C. Jones said.

He knows that day will not come soon.

"My elbow is always stiff," Bird said. "I have problems when I can only get 70% to 80% extension. But if I can get 90% extension, it doesn't bother me.

"The last three or four games, it's felt really good. It hasn't bothered me, at all.

"Because I haven't been shooting well, everybody wants to say the elbow is the reason. But that's not the reason.

"My jump shot comes and goes. I'm not a great shooter. I'm an average shooter. I live and die with my outside shot. The last three or four games, I've been dying with it.

"I just have to work harder and harder so that the shots that haven't been falling will start falling.

"Right now, I'd like to be out there shooting."

Of course, if the elbow felt better, Bird could have been on the court, shooting instead of talking to reporters in front of his locker.

"I like to take 300 shots before every game, but this is the first year I haven't been able to do that," he said. "I've had to learn that if I don't feel good, I shouldn't push it."

Jones had to order Bird not to shoot on the day of what turned out to be the final game of the Cleveland series.

Earlier, Cleveland fans had been chanting, "We Want Bird."

Bird said that was because Cleveland fans didn't know anything about basketball.

"I blew off my mouth," he said.

Realizing the fans would be on him from the start of the game, Bird wanted to make sure he had plenty of practice.

Jones said no.

Bird still scored 34 points in the Celtics' 117-115 victory.

But the injury has forced him to contemplate his physical limitations for the first time in his six-year NBA career. At 28, he already is talking about retirement when his contract expires after five more seasons.

"I can see I'm getting older," he said.

He said that the turned ankle he suffered in the fourth quarter Tuesday night will not limit his effectiveness in Game 3 Saturday. At the same time, he said he doesn't expect it to return to normal as quickly as it would have two or three years ago.

"There's only so many times you can run up and down the court."

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