The Central Division of the National Basketball Assn. just keeps getting more competitive. The team with the worst record, Cleveland, is three games above .500.
The Cavaliers' record (28-25) would put them in second place in the Atlantic Division and in third place in the Pacific Division. In their own division, the Cavaliers are 5 1/2 games from the top.
The Indiana Pacers are a new threat to win it all in the division, although, at the moment, they are four games behind Atlanta.
The Pacers celebrated Coach Jack Ramsay's 63rd birthday Sunday at Indianapolis by coasting to a 130-112 victory over the Sacramento Kings. It was the seventh consecutive victory for the Pacers and improved their record to 28-22.
John Long, who was 10 for 13 from the field, scored 15 of his 25 points in two spurts that gave the Pacers command. The sharpshooting guard scored 8 in an 18-6 run in the first quarter, then 7 in a 17-8 burst in the third quarter that put Indiana ahead, 86-60.
The Pacers have not lost since before the All-Star break when they took Ramsay seriously.
After a win over Philadelphia, Ramsay told his players that if they expected to make the playoffs they would have to play 38 more like that. The number is now down to 32.
Among the teams the Pacers have beaten on the winning streak is the Lakers. The Pacers won at the Forum Feb. 9 and the Lakers have not lost since.
Wayman Tisdale, who has played a prominent role in the streak, had 26 points and 8 rebounds. He was 11 for 15 from the field.
"Seven in a row, that makes life easier," Ramsay said. "We had some real good spots in the game, but we didn't handle their trap well.
"Psychologically, it's tough to sustain a big lead. It's the nature of teams and the nature of a game that a team will come back. John Long got us off to a good start."
It was just about 10 years ago that Ramsay and his Portland Trail Blazers were on top of the NBA. They had won the 1977 championship and were breezing along with the best record in the league when Bill Walton's feet broke down and took Ramsay's dreams of a repeat with him.
This team is not nearly as good, but it is reviving Ramsay's interest.
"We still haven't made the playoffs," Ramsay said. "But I like the way we are developing. We are in the toughest division, though, and it will be difficult."
Cleveland 113, Chicago 111--It was with heavy heart that center Brad Daugherty took the court at Richfield, Ohio. Just 24 hours earlier his 60-year-old father, Roy, died of a heart attack.
Not surprisingly, Daugherty, who will miss two games this week to be with his family in North Carolina, was slow to get into the swing.
But in the fourth quarter he was the big man. He scored 11 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play with 16 seconds remaining that clinched the victory.
"At the start, I was a little lackadaisical with a lot of thoughts," he said. "But I didn't want to let my teammates down. I played this game for my father. He wouldn't want me to sit around feeling sorry for myself."
Daugherty's performance offset a good game by Michael Jordan. Jordan, a former teammate of Daugherty's at North Carolina, had 46 points and 9 assists as the Bulls just fell short.
Atlanta 129, Seattle 113--Dominique Wilkins and his Hawks bounced back from Friday night's heartbreaking loss to the Lakers by clawing their way back into first place in the Central Division.
Wilkins scored 35 points for the Hawks, who blew a 15-point lead in the closing minutes to the Lakers and lost in overtime.
He broke this game open early in the third quarter. His three-point bomb at Atlanta gave the Hawks a 65-61 halftime lead.
Then, he scored two baskets to trigger a 13-4 run in the second half that broke it open.
Dale Ellis had 31 and Tom Chambers 28 for the SuperSonics, but Xavier McDaniel was just 3 for 14 and had only 7 points.
Milwaukee 120, Philadelphia 115--The 76ers' bid to end their string of losses on the road was foiled at Milwaukee when John Lucas sank a three-point shot at the buzzer to get the Bucks into overtime. Then, Terry Cummings took charge and the 76ers lost their 14th in a row on the road.
Cummings scored six points in an 8-2 barrage at the start of the extra period that gave the Bucks the lead for good. Cummings finished with 36 points.
Charles Barkley, although he was only 10 for 25 from the field, had 29 points and 13 rebounds to help keep the 76ers in the game.
Lucas had not scored a point in the second half until he hit the tying basket from the right corner.
Portland 117, San Antonio 112--Jerome Kersey had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Kiki Vandeweghe came off the bench to spark a fourth-quarter surge at Portland.
Vandeweghe scored 10 of his 22 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as the Trail Blazers rallied from a 7-point deficit.
Clyde Drexler's jumper with 91 seconds left gave the Blazers the lead for good, 111-109.