PRO BASKETBALL—You've got to win for the new coach. It's a rule. Philadelphia did it for Billy Cunningham, who took over a 2-4 club. The Sixers are now 20-10 and in first place in the Atlantic. Seattle did it for Lenny Wilkens. Before he became coach, the Sonics were 5-17, the second worst record in the league. Under Wilkens they have won 11 of 12 games. The rule even seems to work if the new coach is the old general manager. Bob Kauffman assumed bench duties two weeks ago when Piston Coach Herb Brown was fired. After dropping two games, Detroit won four straight to climb out of the Midwest cellar into a tie for fourth with Kansas City. Irv Levin was watching. Surely the rule would also hold true for his Celtics, whose 10-21 record is better only than the Nets'. Levin reportedly asked his general manager, Red Auerbach, to take over. No, thank you, said Red, so, for the moment, Coach Tommy Heinsohn had a reprieve. Boston then lost four straight and is 1-15 on the road. Denver's 93-88 defeat by Seattle temporarily dropped the Nuggets, who have lost five straight, into second place in the Midwest, but at week's end they were tied for first with Chicago. Sharing the lead in the Central are Washington, which dropped two, and Cleveland, which won two. Both Cavalier wins were marked by milestones. On Sunday night, in a 101-95 victory over Golden State, Nate Thurmond's number was retired, and on Thursday, Walt Frazier was presented with the game ball when he became the 26th player in NBA history to score 15,000 points. The game, appropriately, was against the Knicks, for whom he scored most of those points, and the Cavs won 112-100. Pacific leader Portland won its 34th straight at home, downing Los Angeles 108-98. Phoenix, which has won eight of its last 10, remained in second place, and Seattle, after climbing to third, fell back into fourth, half a game behind Golden State, when the Warriors downed the Nuggets 98-93. Before losing to Portland, the last-place Lakers had won two, a 104-97 victory over Boston, in which Adrian Dantley, acquired from Indiana the week before, put in 20, and 120-115 over Washington, in which game Dantley had 36. The ex-Pacer forward filled the spot in the lineup vacated by Kermit Washington, who was suspended by Commissioner Larry O'Brien for punching Houston Forward Rudy Tomjanovich. Tomjanovich, who returned to Houston for Christmas, will undergo further surgery and is not expected to play again this season (page 46).
CHESS—With 11 of a possible 20 games in the final candidates' match in Belgrade completed, VIKTOR KORCHNOI held an almost unsurpassable 7½-3½ lead over Boris Spassky. Further action has been delayed pending settlement of a dispute overplaying conditions.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL—Randy Garcia came off the bench in the fourth quarter and fired two touchdown passes to rally Nebraska past North Carolina 21-17 in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. In the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic in Birmingham, the Minnesota Gophers, appearing in their first postseason game since 1962, were defeated by Maryland 17-7. The Terrapins were led by Larry Dick, who passed for 211 yards, and George Scott, who scored two touchdowns in a span of 2 minutes and 11 seconds in the second quarter. Sophomore Jimmy Jordan, named the starting quarterback only minutes before the game, passed for 311 yards and two touchdowns in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando as Florida State routed Texas Tech 40-17. Penn State defeated Arizona State 42-30 in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. (page 48).
PRO FOOTBALL—In the first round of the NFL playoffs, defending champion Oakland defeated Baltimore 37-31 in overtime; Denver downed Pittsburgh 34-21; Dallas trounced Chicago 37-7; and Minnesota muddied Los Angeles 14-7 (page 10).
HOCKEY—NHL: At the Christmas recess the members of the Select Six were separated by a total of only four points. Montreal and Philadelphia had 48 points. Boston and Buffalo 47 and Toronto and the New York Islanders 44. Los Angeles led the Other Twelve with 37 points. Philadelphia ended Boston's 17-game unbeaten streak with a 6-4 win at the Spectrum, but the Flyers then lost 2-0 at home to Montreal and 6-1 at Boston. The Canadiens, who lost at Minnesota and at Pittsburgh as 13 of their players came down with the flu, also beat Toronto 3-2 on Larry Robinson's late goal and held off the Islanders 7-5. Toronto edged the Islanders 3-2, but then the New Yorkers beat the Bruins 4-1. In games involving the Select Six this year, Montreal is 8-2-1, Buffalo 6-4, Boston 5-6, Toronto 4-5-1, New York Islanders 3-5-2 and Philadelphia 1-5-2. Buffalo's Gilbert Perreault scored six goals with just nine shots as the Sabres tied Boston for first place in the Adams. Rookie Defenseman Barry Beck scored the hat trick, giving him an impressive 14 goals for the season, in Colorado's 5-1 pasting of Minnesota. Chicago's Tony Esposito had his 60th career shutout in a 3-0 win over Atlanta. Syl Apps Jr. had four goals and two assists in L.A.'s 8-1 romp over the North Stars. Goaltenders Daniel Bouchard of Atlanta and Esposito of Chicago tied a league record by assisting on two goals in one game. Rookie Ron Duguay's first hat trick led the disorganized New York Rangers out of their most recent slump with a 6-2 defeat of Detroit, the Rangers' first triumph in eight games. The Islanders' Bryan Trottier took over the league goal-scoring lead from Montreal's Guy Lafleur with his 25th and also extended his point-scoring lead over Lafleur to 57 to 48. For Montreal, the real bad news was that All-Star Defenseman Guy Lapointe will be out of action for at least three weeks following eye surgery. Lapointe was struck in the eye by a deflected shot in the game with the Maple Leafs.
WHA: The "other" league was deeply enmeshed in world affairs. The Avco Trophy champion Quebec Nordiques represented the WHA in the Izvestia Cup tournament in Moscow and placed fifth in the five-team competition, tying one game and losing their other three. Czechoslovakia clinched the Izvestia championship with a 6-3 win over Sweden's national team. The WHA enjoyed better international success at home. WHA teams won three of six games against a Soviet all-star team, and the WHA won its series against a Czechoslovakian squad by a margin of six games to one with one tie. The Winnipeg Jets warmed up for their exhibition series against the Soviet national team this week in Tokyo by sweeping a weekend series from New England 6-3 and 7-3 and moving to within four points of the first-place Whalers.
MILEPOSTS—FIRED: By the Buffalo Bills, Coach JIM RINGO, 45, after a 3-11 year in which the Bills tied the Jets for last place in the AFC East.
HIRED: As coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, MARV LEVY, 51, who was coach of the CFL champion Montreal Alouettes for five years. Levy replaces Tom Bettis, who coached the 2-12 Chiefs for the last seven games.
NAMED: As football coach, by the University of California, Assistant Coach ROGER THEDER, 38, to replace Mike White; by New Mexico State, GIL KRUEGER, 48, former coach at Northern Michigan, to replace Jim Bradley; by Princeton, FRANK NAVARRO, 46, who coached NCAA Division III runner-up Wabash College, replacing Bob Casciola; by Washington State, Assistant Coach JIM WALDEN, 39, to replace WARREN POWERS, 36, who has been named coach at Missouri, replacing Al Onofrio.