Kevin Willis is the other forward in the Atlanta Hawks' starting lineup. Dominique Wilkins is the Hawk everyone talks about. Unless they're talking about Spud Webb, the smallest player in the NBA.
Willis, a 7-foot second-year player from Michigan State, has quietly become an integral part of the improved Hawks.
In the most impressive performance of his relatively brief career, Willis stole the show from Wilkins and other better-known players to lead the Hawks to a 128-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night at Atlanta.
Willis had a career-high 39 points and had 21 rebounds, 14 of them on the offensive boards, to lead the Hawks to their 13th victory in a row at home.
It is no mere coincidence that the Hawks' fortunes improved when Willis was inserted into the starting lineup. As a backup center last season, Willis averaged 21 minutes, 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.
When center Tree Rollins needed to rest his aching knees and the Hawks were going nowhere with a 12-13 record, Willis started two games at center. He impressed Coach Mike Fratello, and when Rollins returned, Willis remained as the power forward.
The victory over the Nuggets improved the Hawks' record to 40-25. They are 28-12 since WillIs earned a starting job.
Willis stole the spotlight from the meeting between the league's two leading scorers. Alex English, who is No. 1, increased his lead by outscoring Wilkins, 38-21.
While Willis was 16 for 23 from the field, Wilkins, normally the Hawks' sharpshooter, was only 6 for 22. He had moved up steadily in the scoring race and going into this game, Wilkins trailed only 29.5 to 29.3.
The sixth victory in a row stretched the Hawks' lead over the Detroit Pistons to two games in the battle for second place in the Central Division.
Boston 116, Houston 104--After Larry Bird scored 50 points in the Celtics' one-point loss at Dallas Monday night, he said: "I would rather score 20 and have us win than to score 50 when we lose."
In this game at Houston, Bird scored "only" 31 as the Celtics romped.
Dennis Johnson and Kevin McHale each scored 25 points as the Celtics, improving their record to 51-13, enjoyed a comfortable lead most of the way.
Philadelphia 101, Indiana 91--Julius Erving took the night off to rest an ailing knee, but against the hapless Pacers at Indianapolis, he wasn't needed.
Moses Malone took charge of the scoring and the rebounding, and the Pacers never had a chance. Malone scored six of his 27 points in a 15-2 spurt early in the second half that broke the game open. Malone also had 16 rebounds.
Sacramento 132, San Antonio 120--Reggie Theus had 33 points and 18 assists at Sacramento to make certain the Kings ended their three-game losing streak.
Theus was phenomenal in the first 14 minutes. He scored 22 points and had 10 assists to help build a 50-34 lead.
The Spurs played without center Artis Gilmore, who is out with a hamstring injury, and they lost for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
Chicago 113, New Jersey 100--Gene Banks scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half at Chicago to help Coach Stan Albeck earn his 300th NBA victory. Orlando Woolridge, in his third game back, scored 22 for the Bulls.
Cleveland 112, New York 107--The Cavaliers took a giant step toward a playoff berth by winning at New York, handing the Knicks their eighth loss in the last nine games.
Mel Turpin scored a career-high 32 points and Roy Hinson had 25 for the Cavaliers.