Things would be easier for MILWAUKEE coach Don Nelson if his Bucks, the NBA's version of the little engine that could, could boost their horsepower. Yes, Milwaukee won its sixth straight conference title, but in the playoffs it came up empty, especially at center with 7-foot Alton Lister. The Bucks tried to acquire Joe Barry Carroll from Golden State, but the deal fell through, leaving Nelson with the task of getting more from what wasn't enough last season. That should still be enough to win the division. Terry Cummings, who averaged 23.6 points per game, and Sidney Moncrief (21.7) form perhaps the best forward-guard combo in the NBA. Paul Pressey will shut down rival small forwards.
Detroit, which finished 13 games behind Milwaukee, finally got tired of being pushed around and acquired 6'10", 240-pound Rick (McDirty) Mahorn from Washington for Dan Roundfield. Now, says G.M. Jack McCloskey, "Our defense doesn't have that softness close to the basket anymore." Mahorn will allow Bill Laimbeer to move outside for his 15-foot jumper. In the backcourt, powerful Vinnie Johnson may replace John Long as the starter with Isiah Thomas.
The CLEVELAND CAVALIERS were playing some of the best ball in the division at the end of coach George Karl's rookie season, finishing with a 34-27 rush. The Cavs' strength is at forward with 6'9" Roy Hinson, Phil Hubbard, Ben Poquette, Lonnie Shelton, Edgar Jones and 6'10" rookie Keith Lee. The offense will again revolve around the World—World B. Free—who delivered 22.5 points per game last season.
Chicago has new ownership, a new coach and a "bigger is better" theme. Problem is, there are still big holes. The fans loved watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls in scoring, rebounds and assists, but opposing teams didn't have trouble deciding whom to guard. Kyle Macy was acquired from Phoenix to draw defenders away from Jordan. The Bulls have a bruising rookie in 6'8", 245-pound Charles Oakley from Virginia Union.
Dominique Wilkins, ATLANTA'S 6'7" repeating rifle, is moving to guard. Coach Mike Fratello wants Nique, who fired in 27.4 points a game last season, to run a little more while perhaps learning to control his itchy trigger finger. First-round pick Jon Koncak may alternate at center with Tree Rollins.
The INDIANA PACERS' front line gets stronger with Wayman Tisdale, the No. 2 pick in the draft, but the backcourt cries out for someone with a jump shot. Quinn Buckner, back in the land of his college glory, will teach the Pacers something about defense and winning. But not nearly enough.
As the World turns, so turn the fortunes of those Free-led Cavs.