CAN THEY HACK IT WITHOUT SHAQ?
The injury. With All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal out for six
to eight weeks with a fractured right thumb, Orlando will be a
different team from the one that went to the NBA Finals last
season. Journeyman Jon Koncak, a free-agent acquisition from the
Atlanta Hawks, will start. However, Koncak is a perimeter
player, leaving forward Horace Grant as Orlando's main force in
The key. With Shaq out, head coach Brian Hill will set
brilliant 6'7" point guard Anfernee Hardaway loose. A sturdier
Hardaway, 19 pounds heavier this season than last, might
demonstrate that he, not Shaq, is the team's most valuable player.
The line. That's where the Magic will improve with Shaq
sidelined. Last season Orlando shot an NBA-worst 66.9% from the
line, with O'Neal clanking away at 53.3%.
Outlook. Before Shaq's injury, Orlando was a lock for the
division's top spot. Now, says Hardaway, "we're going to have to
step up our game an extra notch."
EMPLOYING A FULL NELSON
New offense. New head coach Don Nelson's motion offense is
certainly fitting for bustling New York. There is constant
movement in the key, and shooting guard John Starks will dart in
and out of the commotion like a bicycle messenger in traffic.
There are isolation plays for point forward Anthony Mason, sixth
man turned starter. The Knicks, who had been under the shackles
of Pat Riley's bruising, defense-oriented style for four years,
hope that all of this controlled chaos leads to a rejuvenated
Ready for the rocking chair? Point guard Derek Harper, age 34;
All-Star center Patrick Ewing, 33; forward Charles Oakley, 31;
Starks, 30. "Age is a state of mind," says Ewing, whose knees,
not his mind, are the problem. In the off-season Ewing had
arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for the fourth time.
Outlook. The Knicks are still a considerable force on defense,
and if they adjust to Nellie's offense, New York will finish
second in the division.
IF PRICE IS RIGHT....
The Beltway jinx. The Franchise--forward Chris Webber--signed a
six-year, $57 million contract in early October, and the team's
fortunes rest squarely on his shoulders. Unfortunately Webber
dislocated the left one in the preseason and will miss the first
month of the season. Last year during the Bullets' snake-bitten
21-61 season, Washington ranked fourth in the NBA in games
missed because of injury (14 players combined for a total of 317
The key. Mark Price, whom the Bullets acquired from the
Cleveland Cavaliers. If healthy, Price, one of the elite point
guards in the league, fills the Bullets' biggest need. Alas, he,
too, may be out several weeks with a foot injury. Robert Pack,
acquired from the Denver Nuggets, will run the show in Price's
Outlook. If Webber and Price get healthy and second-year
forward Juwan Howard (17.0-point rookie average) keeps
improving, this team will be in the playoffs for the first time
in eight seasons.
MOURNING BECOMES MIAMI
The franchise. On Nov. 3 the Heat obtained two-time All-Star
center Alonzo Mourning from the Charlotte Hornets in a
six-player deal. What does new coach-president-minority owner
Pat Riley, lured from the New York Knicks with an estimated $15
million package, expect from Mourning? "Twenty-five points and
20 rebounds a game," he says.
Up-front gains. Mourning (2.92 blocks a game last season) will
intimidate. The two Heat forwards can shift to their natural
positions: Billy Owens to small forward and Kevin Willis to
The losses. Gone in the trade are the franchise's leading
scorer, forward Glen Rice; second-year point guard Khalid
Reeves; and workmanlike center Matt Geiger. Sasha Danilovic, the
promising but unproven rookie from Serbia, will shoulder some of
Rice's shooting burden.
Outlook. The Mourning coup added to Miami's growing Rileymania,
which will be further stoked by an improvement from last
season's 32 victories.
LOOKING FOR MR. GOOD GUY
Coleman's condition. Moody but skilled power forward Derrick
Coleman, who with point guard Kenny Anderson is the franchise's
heart, has a minor irregular heartbeat, a condition that can be
controlled by medication. But Coleman is expected to be out for
at least several games.
Has anything changed? "There is a different attitude," says
forward Jayson Williams of his historically fractious club.
"Last year at practice we were the Dionne Warwicks of
basketball, always trying to use ESP to predict when practice
would end. This year we practice for two hours and 20 minutes,
then want to scrimmage for another 30 to 35 minutes."
Possible savior. Rookie forward Ed O'Bannon, No. 9 overall pick
in the draft, could be a steal--explosive on the court and
exemplary off it. "He is the best thing that's happened to this
organization in a long time," says head coach Butch Beard.
Outlook. The Nets have talent but have underachieved. Perhaps
O'Bannon can help revitalize them.
ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
The rookie. Is Jerry Stackhouse, the No. 3 overall pick, at the
head of his draft class? Philadelphia--the team and the
city--think so. At shooting guard the 6'6" Stackhouse will post
up shorter defenders and act like a small forward inside.
Second chances. Head coach John Lucas collects players other
teams discard, and this year Lucas took in guard Vernon Maxwell,
who had a bizarre and troubled '94-95 with the Rockets in
Houston, and small forward Richard Dumas, the former Phoenix Sun
who suited up for only 15 games in the last two seasons after
violating the league's drug policy. "We added some players who
people call at-risk guys, but we really improved our team," says
The point guard. The 76ers lost Dana Barros to free agency.
This season Maxwell, a shooting guard in his seven NBA seasons,
will run the point.
Outlook. "Will we win the NBA championship? No," says Lucas.
"But we'll improve, and we'll be in the hunt for a bottom-of-the
barrel [playoff] spot."
A BUILDING BEFORE REBUILDING
The coach. After an "exhaustive" search for a head coach, M.L.
Carr, director of basketball operations, named "a person who
I've known my whole life." Himself. Carr, who has no previous
coaching experience, is a tireless motivator, but that will only
take him so far. Expect Carr, who once waved a white towel on
the Celtics' bench with great enthusiasm, to wave the white flag
at the end of his bedraggled team's season.
Top addition. Barros, a native of Boston and a Boston College
alum, was the NBA's Most Improved Player and an All-Star with
the Sixers last year.
High expectations. Carr has sung the praises of No. 1 draft
choice Eric Williams, proclaiming on draft day that the 6'8"
forward was "the best defender in the draft" and that he could
"even get on the floor and guard a Penny Hardaway."
Outlook. The team's 16 championship banners will now hang from
the rafters of the $160 million FleetCenter. You know a team is
lousy when its building is the main attraction.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES If high-flying Hardaway looks back, he'll see Mourning and Riley (opposite) applying the Heat. [Pat Riley and Alonzo Mourning]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [See caption above--back view of Anfernee Hardaway dunking]