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Original Issue

CENTRAL Division

Q: What is 68 years old and has two heads, two bum knees, one aching back and 24 years of NBA experience?

A: The MILWAUKEE BUCKS' front line, or two thirds of it, anyway. The Bucks' hopes rest on the gimpy wheels of 34-year-old Center Bob Lanier and the comeback kid, Dave Cowens, who at 34 must overcome a two-year layoff, a chronically bad back and inexperience at a new position, power forward. Coach Don Nelson could put together an all-geriatric front wall by inserting 34-year-old free-agent acquisition Steve Mix, a former Philly fixture, into the lineup. "We won't be the bullies on the block now, but no one will kick sand into our faces, either," Nelson says.

While Cowens and Mix represent an effort to toughen up the Bucks, a pair of the league's most graceful finesse players should hurt opponents more. Marques Johnson, making his every-other-year appearance in training camp following a disappointing season a year ago, has impressed observers with his condition and his attitude. "I've never seen Marques so into the game as he is now," says Nelson. Rarely seen out of the game is Moncrief, who last year led the Bucks in playing time, scoring, rebounding and assists. But the key player may turn out to be Cowens, of whom Warrior exec Ken Macker said, "He's not just striking a blow for redheads." With Quinn Buckner gone to Boston and Robert Smith shipped to San Diego, rookie Paul Pressey will see a lot of time at guard, and sixth man Junior Bridgeman may become a fifth man.

The ATLANTA HAWKS aren't as experienced as Milwaukee, but they do know a little something about injuries. Sixty-six games into last season Atlanta publicists stopped counting after they had logged 140 player-games missed because of injury. The Hawks regrouped in time to make the playoffs but were ousted in straight sets by Philadelphia in the miniseries, the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Hawks have lost to a league finalist in the postseason. No way they'll go all the way this season, either, but they may be the most exciting team in the league. Using a combination of traps and presses, the Hawks force opponents into turnovers out front. Chances are, those who do get through will be rejected by Tree Rollins, Dan Roundfield or George Johnson, last season's NBA blocked-shots leader, who was acquired from San Antonio. If all three were to equal their best seasons of swat, they would set an NBA record with more than 700. Nor is Dominique Wilkins, at 6'7" the smallest member of the Hawks' front line, the Ambassador from Dullsville. Wilkins, who's called the young fella by his teammates and coaches, bypassed his senior year at Georgia to try the NBA, and he says, "I don't want to say that I'll be the Rookie of the Year; I'll just let my talent speak for itself. When I'm playing my best I can compete with anyone. My talents just rise to the top." Rhodes scholar candidate and first-round draft pick Keith Edmonson from Purdue missed all of training camp in a contract dispute before signing last week, but he'll fit right in on the Hawks, whose roster includes two stockbrokers (Roundfield and Mike Glenn), two bankers (George Johnson and Rudy Macklin), an engineer (Rory Sparrow) and a Rhodes scholar (Tom McMillen).

It's hard not to be bearish on the CHICAGO BULLS, although they have drafted and traded to try to overcome weaknesses. Rookie Guard Quintin Dailey, on probation after pleading guilty to an assault charge brought while he was at San Francisco, was told by friends and his agent-adviser, Bob Woolf, to shut up and play ball, and that he has done for new Head Coach Paul Westhead. There was speculation that spectators would give Dailey a hard time, but in the preseason they didn't. Says Bulls G.M. Rod Thorn, "If he conducts himself like Caesar's wife, fans will give him the benefit of the doubt." Newly acquired Forward Mark Olberding missed the entire preseason because of a contract dispute with his old team, San Antonio, which Chicago has inherited. Dave Corzine came along in that trade for Artis Gilmore, and he's not mad at anybody. But Guard Reggie Theus is; he's another candidate for contract renegotiation. In any case, Theus should flourish in Westhead's nonstop running attack.

One team Chicago hopes to motor past is the DETROIT PISTONS. Last season the Pistons whipped the Bulls six straight, times en route to a 39-43 mark, their best record in six seasons. Mostly responsible were a pair of rookie All-Stars, Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka. Says Coach Scotty Robertson, "Their maturity is showing. If we can play better defense than last year, we should be able to make the playoffs." Detroit held on to Guard John Long, a free agent who had talked about playing elsewhere. Rookie Forward Cliff Levingston, from Wichita State, held out until last week. "Honestly, I really don't know how he'll fit in with us after he gets here," Robertson said before Levingston reported. "I've never seen him play before."

Folks in Indianapolis saw plenty of Ohio State's 6'10" Herb Williams and 6'7" Clark Kellogg during their games against the Hoosiers. They'll be seeing a lot more, now that Kellogg has joined Williams on the INDIANA PACERS. Williams, the most valuable player in the Los Angeles summer league, will surely be featured along with Kellogg, who was signed after a prolonged contract hassle with the penurious Pacers. During the off-season Coach Jack McKinney went to Denver to learn Doug Moe's passing-game offense, but it won't matter unless Indiana can get the ball off the boards and give it to able guards. Free agent Guard Johnny Davis is still free, and Forward Louis Orr was sent to New York.

Twenty-three players, four coaches, more than $5 million in red ink and only 15 wins are the figures to remember from the nightmare that was the 1981-82 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS. "Last year was something, all right," says Scott Wedman, a $800,000-a-year free agent who was hurt for much of the season. "It was so bad that after a while all you saw was the negative sides of people." In order to help the fans forget last year and the fact that the team doesn't have a No. 1 draft pick (possibly Ralph Sampson), owner Ted Stepien has resorted to such gimmicks as four tickets for the price of two and refunds if the team doesn't win 30 games, double last season's total. Bulletin, bulletin: The Cavs made a coaching change last week before even playing Game 1, Tom Nissalke replacing Bill Musselman. Stay tuned. Wedman is healthy again, and he'll be burying jumpers off feeds from rookie Guard John Bagley, out of Boston College, but the Cavs are going nowhere, as usual.


Corzine, whom Chicago got for Gilmore (right), is at his best when push comes to shove.