Manning is in hurry to fit in

March 03, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

It's been a hectic seven days for Danny Manning. A week ago he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. By Tuesday, he was hitting the game-winning shot for his new team, the Atlanta Hawks. And yesterday he was conducting a national teleconference while driving to the Atlanta airport to pick up his family.

"It's been a busy week," Manning said. "Everyone wants to talk to you. Sooner or later, it'll all die down, hopefully soon."

Manning will find that it won't die down soon, especially when replacing an Atlanta legend -- Dominique Wilkins -- on a Hawks team that has the best record in the Eastern Conference and appears primed to compete for an NBA championship.

Whether Manning can fit in over the last third of the season with a team that already has the league's fourth-best record (39-16) remains to be seen. Local fans will get a chance to judge for themselves when Manning and the Hawks visit the Washington Bullets tonight at the USAir Arena.

In Wilkins, the Hawks had an explosive, crowd-pleasing player who in 11 1/2 seasons scored a franchise-record 23,292 points. Wilkins, 34, also led the franchise in games played (882), minutes (32,542) and scoring average (26.4 points per game). Wilkins also played in eight All-Star Games and was an institution in Atlanta, after playing collegiately at Georgia.

"Dominique is a folk hero in Atlanta, and is really ingrained in the community," Manning said. "I can't replace Dominique. I just want to be the best Danny Manning I can be."

And that means being more versatile, if not as explosive, as Wilkins. Manning, who at 6 feet 10 is more of an inside player

than the 6-8 Wilkins, is averaging 23.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

In his first home game in Atlanta Tuesday it was Manning's 12-foot baseline jumper with eight seconds left that helped the Hawks beat Minnesota, 102-99. His final line was typical Manning -- 21 points, five assists and five rebounds -- in a team-oriented style Wilkins was not that well-known for.

"Danny adds a lot to our ball movement," Hawks center Kevin Willis said after Tuesday's win. "He sees the court real well and he's a good guy to play with."

Manning agreed with the team-player assessment.

"I can make my teammates better," he said when asked what he brought to the Hawks. "I can score if I have to and I'm a good all-around player. I just want to do whatever is needed to win the game.

"Just having joined the Hawks, I know they've played well to this point," Manning said of Atlanta, which brings a four-game win streak into tonight's game. "I feel comfortable. I think this is going to be one of the better teams in the playoffs and I look forward to playing."

Whether his playing in an Atlanta uniform extends beyond the playoffs remains to be seen. Manning is an unrestricted free agent when the season ends.

"I think my family has to be comfortable with the area, and I have to feel comfortable with the city as well," Manning said. "I want to play for a team that competes for a championship the rest of my career."

Asked if that description gives Atlanta an inside track, Manning said: "Most definitely, if things work out."

Before the trade there were rumors that the Orlando Magic had an interest, and Manning at first said he didn't want to get into discussions about another team.

"I'm in a Hawks jersey, and I want to help the Hawks win as much as possible," Manning said. "I don't want to set myself up for worries and letdowns the rest of the season."

But when pressed, Manning added, "They have a very good, young nucleus that's going to be outstanding for a long time. It's a wonderful city, and Florida is a state that doesn't have state taxes."

Which will make a huge difference on the money that Manning is expected to haul in.

BULLETS TONIGHT

Opponent: Atlanta Hawks

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV: HTS

Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: Atlanta has a four-game winning streak. In addition to newcomer Danny Manning, C Kevin Willis (18.1 ppg) leads five players in double figures for the Hawks. The Bullets halted a six-game losing streak with a win at Philadelphia on Tuesday and may get a boost tonight with the return of G Rex Chapman. Chapman, who has been practicing for several weeks, will be examined by a team doctor today and could be activated. C Pervis Ellison is coming off his best game of the season. This is the first of five straight home games for Washington.

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