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EASTERN CONFERENCE : Fortified Magic, New Rules Put Knicks on Run : Grant Joins O'Neal to Bolster Orlando; New York's Riley Plans to Abandon Physical Game fora Gentler Approach

November 03, 1994|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Teams are listed in projected order of finish.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

NEW YORK KNICKS

1993-94 record: 57-25.

Scoring average: 98.5 (21st).

Defensive average: 91.5 (first).

Having failed to climb through their window of opportunity last season when it was wide open, the Knicks are back, not as young, not as strong and no longer allowed to be as rough.

Never fear, Riley is on the case. Having popularized both "Showtime" and "Ugly Ball," he went back to the drawing board and will finally introduce the running game to New York.

Having Derek Harper all season will help but the invaluable Charles Oakley has a troublesome toe injury and Patrick Ewing, who sagged last season, had his arthroscopic surgery on his problem knee and missed the exhibition season.

Meanwhile, everyone wants to know why Riley won't sign that $3-million-a-year extension he has been offered. Maybe it isn't an accident that he never changed his watch from West Coast time.

ORLANDO MAGIC

1993-94 record: 50-32.

Scoring average: 105.7 (sixth).

Defensive average: 101.8 (13th).

The question isn't so much if as when? Horace Grant, 29, comes from Chicago to fill the power forward hole. He and Shaquille O'Neal, 22, are the scariest tandem since the Philadelphia 76ers' Wilt Chamberlain and Luke Jackson in the '60s.

Point guard Anfernee Hardaway, 22, is a comer. Nick Anderson, 26, averaged 20 points before the new arrivals reduced him to a role player. They have only to accumulate some experience and keep their heads on straight to be the next dynasty.

Last year's sweep by the Indiana Pacers hangs from their necks like an albatross, especially that of second-year Coach Brian Hill. Nobody cares about potential anymore, they want to see it happen on the floor.

MIAMI HEAT

1993-94 record: 42-40.

Scoring average: 103.4 (seventh).

Defensive average: 100.7 (11th).

A pall is all there is over Miami now.

The Heat tried to land Danny Manning, tried to trade for Scottie Pippen, tried to sign Manning as a free agent and went 0 for 3.

Billy Cunningham, who built the franchise from expansion weakling, is selling out but it won't be final until January.

Coach Kevin Loughery was put on hold for weeks before being re-signed last spring. Players are lamenting the inability to acquire a star and wondering who's running this team.

Cunningham replies they should grow up and become a team at long last but it hasn't happened yet.

NEW JERSEY NETS

1993-94 record: 45-37.

Scoring average: 103.2 (eighth).

Defensive average: 101 (12th).

Chuck Daly, patron saint of survivors, bailed out, which is all you need to know.

Two years of Derrick Coleman, the prototype law-unto-himself rock head, plus Benoit (Huh?) Benjamin and high-strung, low-producing Chris Morris was enough for Daly. Snits R Us now turns to--or upon--young Butch Beard, who is personable, intelligent and overmatched.

General Manager Willis Reed, who already has the Benjamin trade on his conscience, compounded the felony by wasting a No. 1 pick on a Benoit-in-training, Yinka Dare, already nicknamed "Stinka" by teammates.

BOSTON CELTICS

1993-94 record: 32-50.

Scoring average: 100.8 (16th).

Defensive average: 105.1 (21st).

Remember Red Auerbach blowing clouds of cigar smoke on the bench? What went around is coming around.

The Celtics lost 50 games last season, their second-worst finish since Auerbach joined the franchise in 1950. Red is only a consultant these days and even he can't figure a way out of this hole in the age of the salary cap. His designated successor, Dave Gavitt, arrived at the wrong time, never adjusted to the league and was forced out.

M.L. Carr became general manager after Larry Bird turned it down, in the hope M.L.'s popularity could get the press off ownership's back. M.L. got headlines, signing Dominique Wilkins and offering a No. 1 pick just for the right to talk to Michael Jordan. But the latter was meaningless and the former will help the Celtics win 35 games--and miss the premium lottery slots.

Is this a great life or what?

WASHINGTON BULLETS

1993-94 record: 24-58.

Scoring average: 100.4 (17th).

Defensive average: 107.7 (26th).

Bad finishes, worse luck. In 1992, for instance, after a 22-victory season, they drew the lottery pick that became Tom Gugliotta. The Hornets won 44 and drew Alonzo Mourning.

The talent deficit caught up with Wes Unseld, whose players learned to tune out his grizzly-bear growls. Owner Abe Pollin retired his old favorite to the front office and hired Jim Lynam, who didn't know when he was well off as general manager of the 76ers.

Pollin, desperate or trying to set the franchise up for a sale, tried to trade No. 1 pick Juwan Howard for Scottie Pippen but the Bulls wanted Gugliotta, too.

Howard, a model of industry at Michigan, promised to sign right away but hasn't been seen since the draft, and his agent, Washington-based David Falk, tortures the hometown team.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

1993-94 record: 25-57.

Scoring average: 98.0 (22nd).

Defensive average: 105.6 (22nd).

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