Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying.
Dylan Thomas obviously didn't have the Atlantic Division in mind, but green, as in the BOSTON CELTICS should again be terminal to its opponents. Before training camp, Coach Bill Fitch was asked what wisdom he would impart to his team, which is trying to become the first repeat champion since another Boston club turned the trick 13 years ago. Fitch said, "I'll probably tell them, 'No matter how badly you screw up, you're probably going to win it anyway because the law of averages is with us.' "
Boston has more going for it than probability. The Celtics are still the division's best team, and the race shouldn't come down to the last day of the season, as it did a year ago. Up front, Boston can put the hammer on opponents with a dizzying number of combinations. The shuttle corps is led by 6'9" Larry Bird, 7-foot Robert Parish and championship series MVP, 6'8" Cedric Maxwell. From the bench come ruffians Kevin McHale (6'10") and Rick Robey (6'11"). In the backcourt, Nate Archibald and Chris Ford may be about ready to hang it up, but they should make it through this season before leaving for the old folks' home. Should they falter at all, there's Swingman M.L. Carr, who began the season on injured reserve (hairline right-leg fracture), but is eager to make up for the 41 games he missed a year ago because of a broken left foot. Also, rookies Charles Bradley, Tracy Jackson and maybe, just maybe, Danny Ainge are waiting in the wings.
Time definitely hasn't been an ally of the PHILADELPHIA 76ERS. Although they have had the best record in the league over the last five years, all the Sixers have to show for those victories are two defeats in the championship finals, a pair in the conference finals, and a big pile of We Owe You Ones.
Certainly the 6,704 fans who attended the seventh game of last season's semifinal against Milwaukee have kept the faith, even if no one else has; and it's to them that new owner Harold Katz will be making his promises. Apart from second-year Guard Andrew Toney and newcomer Franklin Edwards, the returning cast consists of the same old heartbreakers from years past. And, just as in the past, there isn't the outside shooter Philly needed so desperately in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston. Is General Manager Pat Williams realistic about motivation? "I don't think there'll be a hangover from the Boston series," he says. "We have the whole month of October to get ready." If the team's first two victories were any indication, league MVP Julius Erving appears ready to go, but Darryl Dawkins, who's in the final season of his seven-year contract, may not be. Coach Billy Cunningham started Bobby Jones instead of Caldwell Jones last weekend, but may decide to bench Dawkins, who has shown that he can slam-dunk and eat Wheaties with the best of 'em. His rebounding in big games has been another matter.
The NEW YORK KNICKS would just like to get into a big game. Erratic wild men two seasons ago, the Knicks were only occasionally out of control last year and won 50 games, before losing their playoff mini-series with Chicago in two straight. Still, as Coach Red Holzman says, "We must be doing something right to win 50 games." What's right is the raw material on hand. What's wrong is a dearth of fundamentals. Without improvement in that department, 7'1" Bill Cartwright, who missed the entire preseason with strained right knee ligaments. Campy Russell, Michael Ray Richardson, et al., will again be no more than an exciting team that falls out of the playoffs early. On the positive side, the acquisition of Maurice Lucas gives the Knicks its best power forward since Dave DeBusschere retired in 1974. And 7'1" team captain Marvin Webster, who will play center at least until Cartwright recuperates, had an excel-lent training camp, during which he actually looked for his shot. Newly acquired guards Mike Newlin and Randy Smith may provide stability as well as jump shots.
The NEW JERSEY NETS will be playing in a new arena—named for New Jersey's outgoing governor—and for a new, outgoing coach. They've also assembled quite a collection of kids for Larry Brown, the new schoolmarm-mentor who left UCLA in search of an opportunity to teach, which he will find plenty of here. With rookies Albert King, Buck Williams and Ray Tolbert, as well as second-year man Darwin Cook and the three Mikes—Woodson, Gminski and O'Koren—on hand, there are enough students to fill two classrooms. The 6'8" Williams moved bodies around during the preseason, and he should take some pressure off Gminski, who is recovering from a lower-back staph infection. Guard Ray Williams, formerly the wildest of the Knicks' wild bunch, reported late and overweight. He might do with some intensive instruction, too, on how to keep a cool head and a hot hand. Of course, when newcomer Otis Birdsong recovers from his sore right knee, the Nets will have the most talented starting backcourt in the league.
Last year the WASHINGTON BULLETS were old and ugly. This year ugly will suffice. Of the 11 Bullets who performed in the 1978-79 playoff finals against Seattle, only two, Forward Greg Ballard and Guard Kevin Grevey, remain. The most recent departures were Wes Unseld, who retired to the front office after 13 years as a player; Elvin Hayes, who was traded to Houston; Mitch Kupchak, who was shipped to Los Angeles; and Bobby Dandridge, who wasn't offered a contract. Jim Chones and Brad Holland, who were obtained in the Kupchak deal, could help, and so might Spencer Haywood, another former Laker who played last season in Italy. But even if all of them exceed expectations, they won't save the Bullets from a dismal season. Neither will Guard Frank Johnson, Washington's first-round draft pick. But Guard John Lucas, acquired from Golden State after Kevin Porter tore his left Achilles tendon during training camp, putting him out for the season, should draw some fans who remember his play at Maryland. Coach Gene Shue also played for the Terps, and indeed the Bullets' quality of play may more resemble that of Maryland than that of the rest of the NBA.