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Ewing Is Getting Too Hot to Handle


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In this program, the strategy, game plan and the security blanket belong to Patrick Ewing. The others are the others. They have to know their place.

Ewing heat sears the others. Come along with Patrick Ewing or he will burn you with his fire. Superstars can be that way. He is the giant.

Rolando Blackman, Herb Williams and Charles Smith need cool fire, banked perhaps for a long time until they're called. They're the depth Dave Checketts and Ernie Grunfeld compiled, and Pat Riley banked.

The coach prepares them to win a game, and hopes he doesn't need them.

Ewing takes a game into his own hands these days. "I think Patrick was about as ready as he's ever been for a game," Riley said.

"Starting (Saturday) night," Smith noticed. "Maybe he took the loss Friday night a little personal." That's not to be minimized.

He couldn't do it all Sunday. He tried. He made 13 of 21 shots -- 11 of his first 13 -- both his free throws, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots. He was a fury.

The others waited for the turn that often doesn't come. Even though they have been big men all their lives. They don't fool themselves.

Williams played out of desperation after Ewing picked up his second foul five minutes into the game. Smith got shots because the New York Knicks' offense, which is normally constipated, was closed off, backed up and clogged.

And Blackman was in for the last shot because there were 28.2 seconds on the clock, the score was 92-92, the Knicks needed an alternative for Ewing, and Blackman has been a shooter for 11 years.

"I don't feel butterflies," Blackman said. "It's always the same. I go up and look for the orange."

The play is to get the ball to Ewing, as it always is, as the Charlotte Hornets knew. Hubert Davis drove the middle, found no avenue to Ewing and passed out to Blackman: top of the circle, five seconds on the shot clock.

Ah, orange juice. The Knicks beat the Hornets, 94-92, to take a lead of three games to one over a very stubborn, very disruptive team. Like the previous three games, it was breathless all the way.

Williams hadn't played since the blowout in the third game with Indiana, last series. The way Smith had been playing, they'd have been better off if he hadn't. For 11 seasons Blackman was a star. "I'm a fill-in," he said. "That's my status now."

Before they got to Blackman, well ...

The call for Williams was an emergency: Alonzo Mourning could wreck them before they knew it. "One thing I'm trying is to keep the flow going and not let 'Lonzo go crazy," Williams said. "We got to hold it close or up the lead until Patrick gets back."

The first demand is poise. Williams is a reedy 6-11 and 35 years old. The Knicks got him a week into the season mostly to contest Ewing in practice, after he'd spent 11 seasons with Indiana and Dallas. He learned by watching.

" 'Lonzo loves to drive right and shoot the hook," Williams said. "Then he comes back to the ball real hard. You watch what a player is doing and try to take it away from him."

His approach to guarding Mourning is not the same as Ewing's. The effect is like Stu Miller after Nolan Ryan. Ewing beats on Mourning from behind, contests him after he catches the ball. Williams plays in front and dares the Hornets to lob over. "I don't want him to catch the ball; I want to take everything away from him," Williams said.

Williams played 13 minutes and preserved Ewing's game. Not only that, Williams blocked two shots and effectively contained Mourning. And not only that, Williams made all four of his shots.

"I'm sure I wasn't even in their scouting report; I was somebody who might play two or three minutes," he said. He thought Mourning had given a sigh of relief: Herb wasn't going to score, and 'Lonzo could go to the boards. "I'm thinking I'm going to go at him," Williams said. He provided six points in the first quarter, when they needed the lift.

Smith had been shooting blanks since the first game with Indiana. His stigma was an airball in Game 1, when he was immediately taken out. Riley contemplated a change but he has few scoring options.

Smith said Ewing and Anthony Mason had urged him to keep shooting "regardless." Somebody had to. "Coach Riles showed a lot of confidence in me," Smith said.

Still, bad periods have their way of becoming bad games, which become all the bad things a player can think of. Confidence, sure. John Starks has no remorse about shooting. When Smith shot nothing but air four minutes into the game, he immediately looked over his shoulder to Riley. "Yeah, I did," Smith conceded.

Riley let Smith play 35 minutes and was rewarded with 19 points, all of which were needed to get the ball and the game into Blackman's hands, and into his mind. Blackman knows how to improvise, even when he hasn't taken a shot since the first quarter. He's 34. He's able to play with the pain of a herniated disc.

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