Dave Wohl wasn't even the first choice of the New Jersey Nets. After Coach Stan Albeck left for Chicago and the lure of Michael Jordan, the Nets apparently had Villanova's Rollie Massimino talked into the job.
At the last moment, Massimino had misgivings. Instead of going after a big name, the Nets settled on Wohl, an assistant for the Lakers. Not for a minute have they regretted the move.
With Buck Williams leading the way, the Nets built a big lead over Detroit Thursday night at East Rutherford, N.J., and coasted to a 124-116 victory over the Pistons. It was the Nets' fifth in a row and put them only 3 1/2 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division.
Williams, who had 13 rebounds, scored 14 of his 26 points in a tremendous burst in the first half when the Nets outscored the Pistons, 39-18, in 11 1/2 minutes.
The Nets led, 18-14, with 4:12 left in the first quarter. Williams started the spurt with a dunk. When it ended, the Nets led, 57-32. The Pistons' belated rally cut the lead to seven points, but they never were closer.
From the start, Wohl showed the Nets a tough, uncompromising approach. Four-time All-Star guard Otis Birdsong struggled with the transition to Wohl's system. And, Wohl's candid criticism rankled the other guard, Micheal Ray Richardson, touching off a minor feud in the papers.
But from the start, Wohl has made it clear that in his opinion the Nets have the talent to contend for the championship right away.
"If this was a team with a lot of rookies, then your goal has to be for the future," Wohl told UPI. "This is a veteran team, a team that in the last five years has won more games in the Eastern Conference than all but the big three (Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee). We want to go a little further in the playoffs each year. You can't give people a goal that's too easy to reach."
In other seasons, the Nets were already out of contention for the title in the division and were battling just to gain a playoff spot.
But, with the Celtics showing signs of vulnerability, the Nets have renewed hope. After 31 games a year ago, the Nets were 14-17 and trailed the Celtics by 11 1/2 games. This season they are in second place with a 19-12 record.
New York 113, Chicago 96--This game at Chicago should have been a romp for the Bulls. After all, the Knicks, who won a double overtime thriller from Boston Wednesday, flew in for the game without center Patrick Ewing, who injured his knee in the win over the Celtics.
The Knicks, with Pat Cummings and Trent Tucker sparking a second-half surge, overcame 30 points by George Gervin to beat the Bulls.
Cummings scored 14 of his 22 in the second half, while Tucker had 10 of his 17 in the third quarter when the Knicks overcame a four-point deficit to take a five-point lead.
The Bulls missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the fourth quarter to lose all chance.
Ewing is expected to return for Saturday's game with Atlanta.
Dallas 105, Phoenix 98--Mark Aguirre apologized to his teammates, his suspension was lifted and he returned to action with a bang at Phoenix. Aguirre, after missing two games following his refusal to play in the second half of a game with Atlanta Dec. 19, scored 24 points.
Dale Ellis came off the bench to score 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Mavericks rallied from a 10-point deficit in the last 11 minutes.
Houston 106, Utah 99--Lewis Lloyd scored six of his 21 points in a 10-0 spurt in the fourth quarter at Houston that brought the Rockets from behind and enabled them to remain perfect at home (15-0).
The Rockets trailed, 87-80, when the spurt began and they forged ahead, 90-87, with 7:42 left.
Akeem Olajuwon also scored 21 points and blocked nine shots and had 15 rebounds. Ralph Sampson had 25 rebounds.
Milwaukee 105, Indiana 87--In the absence of the Bucks' top scorer, Sidney Moncrief, at Milwaukee, Paul Pressey, usually a defensive specialist, took charge of the offense.
Pressey scored 22 points, had 7 rebounds and 5 assists as the Bucks jumped in front early, then turned the game into a rout in the third period.
Moncrief bruised his knee in shooting practice earlier in the day.
Golden State 131, Sacramento 121--Purvis Short scored 30 of his season-high 41 points in the first 28 minutes at Oakland to lead the Warriors to victory.
Joe Barry Carroll scored 30 to help the Warriors end a three-game losing streak and climb out of the cellar in the Pacific Division.