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Big Men Growing in NBA

October 20, 1985|WILLIAM R. BARNARD | Associated Press

Twin Tower front lines, a National Basketball Assn. phenomenon at Houston last season, now are under construction in New York, Boston and Washington.

The pairing of 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson and 7-foot rookie Akeem Olajuwon worked so well for the Rockets that they won 19 more games last season than the previous year.

That experiment was one of the highlights of a 1984-85 season that included the Lakers' beating the Celtics for the first time in the championship series and the electrifying performance of rookie Michael Jordan of Chicago.

More teams will present their own towering lineups when the 1985-86 NBA season opens Friday night. For example:

--The Celtics traded for 6-11 Bill Walton to back up front line starters, 6-10 Kevin McHale, the NBA's No. 1 sixth man the past two seasons, and 7-0 Robert Parish. Two of the three probably will be in the game most of the time.

--The New York Knicks, a bust with a 24-58 record last year, drafted three-time Georgetown All-America Patrick Ewing, and plan to start the 7-0 rookie and 7-1 Bill Cartwright on the front line, although both are natural centers. However, Cartwright, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, reinjured it in an exhibition game and will miss next Saturday's nationally televised Ewing debut against Philadelphia.

"If Boston can do it, we can do it with no problem," Knicks Coach Hubie Brown said when asked if his two 7-footers can play together. "For most teams, power forward and center has become interchangeable."

--Although he won't start, 7-7 Manute Bol of the Washington Bullets should be the most closely watched second-round draft pick in NBA history. The Bullets have the Sudanese giant working hard on a weight program that has upped his weight from 190 to more than 200 pounds. Undoubtedly, Bol and massive 6-11 Jeff Ruland will see court time together.

Thirteen of the first 17 first-round draft picks this year were 6-9 or taller, including five who were 7-footers. Dallas took 7-0 Bill Wennington of St. John's and 7-1 Uwe Blab of Indiana with consecutive choices in the first round. Call that instant Twin Towers.

"I got as tired of saying we didn't have a center as the media got tired of reporting it," said Mavericks Coach Dick Motta.

Friday's regular-season openers pair Boston at New Jersey, Washington at Atlanta, Milwaukee at Detroit, Cleveland at Chicago, Houston at Utah, Denver at Golden State, Phoenix at Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers at Sacramento. The Kings, formerly of Kansas City, will play their first game at their new home in California's state capital.

Saturday, it will be Philadelphia at New York, Boston at Cleveland, New Jersey at Indiana, Detroit at Chicago, Atlanta at Milwaukee, Seattle at Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio, Sacramento at Denver and Houston at the Clippers.

Four coaches will be making their debuts, with only Stan Albeck of Chicago having previous head coaching experience. The others are New Jersey's Dave Wohl, Seattle's Bernie Bickerstaff and Philadelphia's Matt Guokas.

The Celtics, with Larry Bird seeking to become the third player to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award for three straight seasons, should be the kingpin of the Atlantic Division.

The Celtics traded forward Cedric Maxwell to the Clippers for Walton, who hopes to rejuvenate his enthusiasm for basketball with a championship race to spur him. Rookie Sam Vincent could improve the Celtics' sometimes shaky backcourt shooting.

The 76ers, playoff disappointments the past two seasons after winning a championship in 1983, stood pat with a starting lineup of Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney. Philadelphia, the shortest team in the NBA last year, added frontline depth in rookies Terry Catledge, 6-8, and Greg Stokes, 6-10.

"There seems to be an emphasis on size and strength this year, and I feel our big people are as good as most front lines, but we will also strive to be fresh, quick and opportunistic," Guokas said.

Washington, New Jersey and New York complete what Brown, the Knicks' coach, calls "possibly the toughest division in sports, not just basketball."

The Bullets traded Rick Mahorn to Detroit for Dan Roundfield and sent longtime forward Greg Ballard to Golden State. Roundfield probably will start with holdovers Ruland, Cliff Robinson, Jeff Malone and Gus Williams.

The Nets hope to get full seasons from injury plagued Darryl Dawkins and Otis Birdsong, and Wohl believes All-Stars Micheal Ray Richardson and Buck Williams will fit into a running game.

The Knicks, with a league-record 339 games lost to injury last year, have a host of young players who could develop with Ewing. Darrell Walker and rookie Gerald Wilkins, brother of Atlanta's Dominique, are the brightest hopes besides Ewing, and the team should benefit from more enthusiasm from New York's fandom.

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