Larry Bird spent the summer getting in shape to carry even more of the load for the Boston Celtics. For the first time in his career, he worked out with weights.
And Bird, who will be 31 next month, is prepared to help make up for the absence of Kevin McHale, who will be out of action for at least the first month.
It was vintage Bird in the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at Boston as he led the Celtics to a 125-108 victory, with considerable help from Fred Roberts, McHale's replacement.
Bird, playing only 37 minutes, had 28 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists, while Roberts contributed 20 points.
The Bucks, playing without Don Nelson as coach for the first time in more than a decade and also missing their two best guards, Sidney Moncrief and Ricky Pierce, stayed close for 32 minutes, then faded before the relentless play of Bird.
The biggest jolt to the Bucks in their opener under Del Harris was their inability to rebound. Although they had two giants on the floor most of the time, the Bucks were out-rebounded by an astounding 57-31.
Harris gave the credit to Bird, saying: "He should be an NFL quarterback. He can hit people on the run better than most quarterbacks."
The Celtics, who lost the championship last spring to the Lakers largely because of a weak bench, had three rookies on their roster for the first time since 1974.
All three played and made a contribution. Brad Lohaus, Reggie Lewis and Mark Acres totaled 16 points in 27 minutes.
Philadelphia 108, Indiana 95--Charles Barkley signaled the start of the Barkley Era by leading the 76ers to victory at Philadelphia.
Barkley, the new leader now that Julius Erving has retired, had 29 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists and led the fast start.
Reggie Miller, the rookie from UCLA, scored 10 points for the Pacers in 26 minutes off the bench.
Detroit 110, New York 99--The Pistons, with visions of reaching the NBA Finals next spring, ran into unexpected opposition in their opener at Pontiac, Mich.
They trailed the pesky Knicks, 71-62, in the third quarter before Vinnie Johnson came off the bench to provide a winning spark. He scored 11 points in a 28-13 spurt that brought the Pistons roaring from behind.
Atlanta 114, Washington 97--The Hawks are another team with hopes of ending the Celtics' dominance of the East.
They opened at home and, behind Dominique Wilkins, coasted to victory. Wilkins scored 34 points, most of them while the Hawks built a 73-45 lead in the first 24 minutes.
It was not an auspicious debut for Bernard King as a Bullet. The former league scoring champion made only 3 of 12 shots and had only 9 points.
Cleveland 114, New Jersey 108--Dell Curry, a second-year guard acquired from Utah in the deal that sent Darryl Dawkins to the Jazz, came off the bench to spark the Cavaliers at East Rutherford, N.J.
Curry scored 20 points in 25 minutes and teamed with Brad Daugherty on an 11-point spurt in the fourth quarter.
Ex-Laker Adrian Branch scored 20 points for the Nets.
Dallas 95, Utah 93--John MacLeod's debut as coach of the Mavericks was a success at Dallas, but just barely.
A corner jumper by Darrell Griffith gave the Jazz a 93-92 lead, but Derek Harper tossed in a three-point basket with just one second left to pull it out.
The Jazz played the final seven minutes without their star, Karl Malone, who was given a double-technical, meaning automatic elimination, for protesting a call.
Houston 108, San Antonio 102--World B. Free was out of this world for a brief spell in the third quarter at Houston and rallied the Rockets to victory.
The Rockets trailed by four at halftime, but Free tossed in four consecutive jumpers in a 14-4 spurt that put the Rockets ahead to stay.
Rodney McCray, with just one day of practice, came off the bench to score 23 points for Houston.
Sacramento 134, Golden State 106--Otis Thorpe scored 28 points as the Kings gave Bill Russell a royal welcome back to the NBA at Sacramento.
In Russell's debut as the Sacramento coach, the Kings jumped in front early and stayed there.
Sleepy Floyd scored 18 of his 29 points in the third quarter but couldn't wake up the Warriors.
Portland 118, Phoenix 104--Kiki Vandeweghe scored 32 points, including two three-point bombs in a fourth-quarter surge that carried the Trail Blazers to victory at Portland.
The Blazers led by only six points when Vandeweghe led a 14-6 rally.