Hawks passing praise to Manning

ON THE NBA

March 08, 1994|By JERRY BEMBRY

Atlanta Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens has had the services of Danny Manning for just more than a week, but that hasn't stopped the second-winningest coach in NBA history from gushing about the acquisition of the two-time All-Star.

"What I really like about [Manning] is not only can he play the game, but he knows how to play it and is smart about it," Wilkens said. "He is not afraid to pass or shoot it."

But can Manning, acquired for Dominique Wilkins, help the Hawks sustain their torrid pace? The team has its best record through 57 games (41-16) in franchise history.

Manning prides himself on making his teammates better and is receiving praise from the Hawks for his passing ability. In Wilkins -- who hardly passed -- the Hawks had an explosive player capable of taking a game over.

That leaves many wondering whether the Hawks took a major risk in a season when they have a legitimate chance to advance to the NBA Finals.

"This was a big risk that we took," Atlanta guard Stacey Augmon said. "We still don't know whether it was a good or bad choice yet. We'll see toward the end. We'll see in the close games, and whether we'll be able to pull those out."

Guard Craig Ehlo, in his first year with the Hawks, came to admire Wilkins' ability to take control of games.

"Every time we got in trouble and needed a shot, that was somebody we can go to," Ehlo said.

But he also added that Manning has the same potential -- and willhave to live up to it if the Hawks are to make a serious run in the playoffs. Manning already has won two games with final-second shots in his four games with the Hawks. Atlanta has won six straight.

"With Danny out there, sometimes he thinks pass first and shot second," Ehlo said. "It's OK, but some nights we're going to need for him to really go to the basket.

"I think, in my experience in the playoffs, you have to have somebody who will either get to the basket or get to the foul line," said Ehlo, who, while playing for Wilkens in Cleveland, appeared in the playoffs five of the past six seasons. "And the more [Manning] gets acclimated with us, he'll be a guy we can do that with."

But, with just less than two months left in the regular season, is there time for that acclimation?

"I think we can make a strong run down the stretch," Augmon said. "We have a lot of time before the playoffs to get him into the team chemistry. He'll work out fine."

Trouble for Bulls

Atlanta can go a long way in securing its spot on top of the Central Division this week.

Tonight, the Hawks travel to Chicago to play the Bulls and, after tomorrow's game against the New York Knicks, will be host to the Bulls on Friday.

The Bulls are beginning to fade. Since the All-Star break, Chicago is 3-8. Sunday's loss to the Cavaliers was the Bulls' fifth straight, the team's longest losing streak since April 1989.

Suddenly, all of that early-season talk of "We don't need Michael" during Chicago's surprising start has ended. Scottie Pippen may have followed in Michael Jordan's footsteps when he was All-Star Game MVP, but during the past week, he has given several un-Jordan-like performances.

After the Bulls lost to the Cavaliers last week, Pippen suggested racism was behind his being booed by the home fans (he later apologized for his statement).

In Sunday's loss to the Cavaliers, Pippen took three shots in the fourth quarter -- not exactly demonstrating the aggressiveness needed from your go-to guy.

Gerald Wilkins said it best in his comments after Sunday's game: "Unlike Jordan, Pippen can be guarded."

By now, Pippen surely has heard those comments. How he responds in this crucial week with the two games against Atlanta will demonstrate whether the Bulls have a shot at winning the division title.

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