76ers, Bucks hot

ON THE NBA

Spurs, Pacers not

February 14, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

When the NBA season began just over a week ago, who would have imagined the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks among the league's unbeaten teams? That people would actually be yearning to see more Sacramento Kings games on television, and that the Boston Celtics would look like a team to beat in the Eastern Conference?

Those were some of the early surprises in the league over its first week. And while in time legitimate contenders will play up to expectations, the competitive play of perennial doormats does provide excitement at a time when the league needs a boost.

In Philadelphia, the Sixers were 3-0 going into Friday's game against San Antonio. It was the first 3-0 start for the team since the 1984-85 season and occurred despite Allen Iverson shooting 15 of 55 (27 percent).

What's helping the Sixers is surprising balance, with five players averaging in double figures going into the San Antonio game. Rookie guard Larry Hughes has produced as Iverson's backcourt mate, and center Theo Ratliff was averaging a double double (13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds) and blocking nearly four shots a game.

A sign of maturity for Iverson came after he shot four of 17 from the field in a win over Charlotte.

"Allen said it was the first time he had ever played that bad and felt so good, because we had won," teammate Matt Geiger said.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks go into today's game against Orlando with a 3-0 record under new coach George Karl. Not only does the coaching change help, but the team has a presence in the middle (Ervin Johnson) as well as depth (Dell Curry, Vinny Del Negro, Armon Gilliam and Robert "Tractor" Traylor all come off the bench.

"We've got 15 NBA players, and I think all 15 guys can play in the NBA," said Karl, who also has Terrell Brandon, Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Tyrone Hill in the starting lineup.

The biggest surprise in the West, apart from the slow start by the Spurs, is the competitiveness of the Kings, who have split their first four games. With Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Corliss ("I used to be scoreless") Williamson, the Kings boast a front line that is among the best in the league. And point guard Jason Williams is showing he's among the league's top rookies, averaging 18 points.

That might not be enough punch to get Sacramento into the playoffs. But the Kings at least are laying a foundation.

And maybe that might be enough to entice Webber -- who's averaging 23.5 points, 16.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists -- to stick around when his contact expires.

Off the pace

Two of the most disappointing teams so far have been the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio.

Much was said about the team working out together in the off-season, but going into today's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pacers are 3-2, with losses to Detroit and Portland.

"It's very disappointing," coach Larry Bird said after his team lost to Detroit last Sunday. "It's not good for the league when you start out like this, especially with the type of team I have."

Even though Indiana came within a game of reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Pacers are not striking fear in opponents.

"They haven't won anything," said Pistons forward Jerry Stackhouse. "The Pacers are just like us. Everybody acts like they won it because Chicago's no longer in the fold. But we don't look at it that way."

In San Antonio, there's still a question of the toughness of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. In losses last week to the Lakers and Timberwolves, Duncan missed 24 of 34 shots. Robinson made just four of 11 against the Lakers.

"Our big fellows have to get a little more aggressive down there," said San Antonio guard Mario Elie. "We're going to them religiously. I mean, they have to score. If they can't get it done, we've got to find someone else."

Stats of the week

Seattle SuperSonics power forward Vin Baker had missed all 14 of his free throws in four games going into last night's contest against Denver.

The Houston Rockets' starting backcourt of Matt Maloney and Michael Dickerson combined on one shot attempt and failed to score a field goal in the Feb. 6 game against Golden State.

The starting centers for the Washington Wizards (Terry Davis for three games, and Ben Wallace for one) have totaled four field goals and 10 shots in four games.

Around the league

When only 6,118 fans showed up at the Los Angeles Sports Arena last Sunday for the Los Angeles Clippers-Chicago Bulls game, it was the first time since March 18, 1995, that the Bulls failed to play before a sellout crowd.

Mismatch of the week: When Golden State played the Dallas Mavericks during the opening weekend of the season, Mavericks coach Don Nelson had 7-foot rookie Dirk Nowitzki guard Warriors 5-foot-3 guard Muggsy Bogues. "I'd never put a 7-footer on Muggsy before, so I thought, `Why not try it?' " Nelson said.

Ray Allen signed his six-year, $70.9 million contract extension without an agent, thus saving millions in agent fees. Allen hired lawyer Johnnie Cochran at $500 an hour to examine the deal.

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