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1987-88 NBA PREVIEW : EASTERN CONFERENCE : Celtic Throne Appears to Be Teetering a Bit

November 05, 1987|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

Will Red Auerbach choke on his cigar if the Boston Celtics don't reach the National Basketball Assn. Finals for the fifth straight year?

The Celtics haven't appeared so vulnerable since Larry Bird joined the team in 1979.

The Celtics lost their NBA title to the Lakers last June, and this could be the season they lose their stranglehold on the Eastern Conference.

All-Star forward Kevin McHale, who limped through the playoffs, will be out until January after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. McHale led the NBA in field goal percentage last season and finished sixth in scoring.

And oft-injured center Bill Walton, 34, who spent the summer on tour with his favorite band, the Grateful Dead, will have even more free time to follow them. Walton will miss the season after undergoing surgery on his right foot last June.

If Boston collapses, the balance of power in the Eastern Conference could shift to the Central Division, by far the most competitive in the NBA.

Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, the league's top two scorers last season, play in the Central Division.

There were six NBA teams that won 50 or more games last season, and three were in the Central Division--Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee. Five teams from the division made the playoffs.

Detroit and Milwaukee extended the Celtics in the playoffs last season, taking Boston to the seventh game. In fact, the Pistons might have beaten the Celtics if Isiah Thomas hadn't thrown away an inbounds pass that gave Boston the fifth game of the series.

Team-by-Team Look: Page 8.

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