Bird's Rookie Year

December 27, 1979


There is none of the Crusade-type atmosphere that permeated this journey in years gone by. The first West Coast trip of the 1979-80 Celtic season is merely another commitment on the schedule.

All Bill Fitch sees are five more road games, three in the first three nights in California, and then a pair of well-spaced games in Houston (Wednesday) and San Antonio (Saturday, Jan.5) After that, the Celtics will return home on Jan. 9 to kick off a seven-game homestand.

The struggle begins tonight in the San Diego Arena, where the Celtics will face the surprising Clippers, who have maintained a .500 pace all season long despite the absence of Bill Walton and the concomitant loss of power forward Kermit Washington, who was part of the compensation awarded Portland for the defection of Walton.

San Diego relies heavily on the potent backcourt triumvirate of Lloyd Free, Brian Taylor and Freeman Williams, a group which promises to create innumerable defensive headaches for the Celtics. They also feature a strong center named Swen Nater, a strapping (6-foot-11, 240 lb.) young man who is coming off a 35-point, 22-reobund game against Utah.

Dave Cowens, by contrast, arrives here mired in a rebounding slump. Though he continues to play exemplary defense, and though he broke out of a prolonged scoring slump with 20 points against Philadelphia last Saturday, he is not doing the job on the boards. In his last five games, he has managed but 28 rebounds, an average of 5.6 per outing, while playing an average of 38 minutes. Cowens must contain Nater if the Celtics are to win their 12th road game.

Boston dropped both games played here last season and won but one game on the road against the entire Pacific Division (a 101-97 conquest of Golden State, Feb. 21). This season they are 1-0 vs. this division, having defeated Phoenix Dec. 7 at the Garden.

What many people feel will be the highlight of the trip takes place tomorrow night, when the Celtics play the Lakers before a sold-out Forum containing 17,505. This will be the first Los Angeles bang-out of the season, for it seems that everyone in what is euphemistically referred to as the "Southland" is eager to see the first pro contest between Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Larry Bird. Fitch and Laker interim mentor Paul Westhead can only hope that the game does not deteriorate into some sort of freak show, the way Bird's pro debut in Terre Haute, Ind., did during the exhibition season.

Fitch, meanwhile, will be trying to keep his troops' attention focused on this game, which will not be an easy one. As the Great Prophet Auerbach is wont to ask: "What profiteth a man if he beats Los Angeles after being knocked on his tushie by San Diego?"

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