1980-81 NBA Season Preview

October 10, 1980

Division races:

So what can you be told that you don't already know? That there has not been a championship repeater since the '68-69 Celtics? That no rookie this year will have anything close to the impact of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson? That Dallas will be neither a title nor a playoff threat? That the Knicks lack a power forward, San Antonio a quick forward, and San Diego a veteran forward, period? That what the NBA needs as much as another Bird or Magic is a young referee or three, or 10, with the potential of a young Mendy? That the One and Only Johnny Most will still be saying, ". . . And Bird is attacked!" a breath ahead of ". . . And they're calling a foul on Maxwell!" You've been around; you already know all these things.

You know the basics. There will be a surprise team like KC of two years ago or Boston of last year. There will be a Superflop, a la the Pistons of a year ago. A coach or two will get the bounce. Darryl Dawkins will break a backboard and, meanwhile, average seven rebounds a game. George Gervin will win the scoring title. Ronnie Lee will take 73 charges. Hubie Brown will conduct postgame press conferences in which, like the mythic Hollywood producer, he will ask you a question, answer it for you and tell you you're wrong.

You know all this, and you also probably know that the divisions will go like this:


Four teams have every right to claim on-paper improvement. The fifth is Boston. The 76ers added a point machine in rookie Andrew Toney and they also welcomed back Doug Collins. The Bullets gladly said "Hello" again to Mitch Kupchak and they picked up a blip on the radar screen named Wes Matthews. New Jersey drafted Instant Player Mike O'Koren and Center of The Future Mike Gminski while wisely trading for guard Foots Walker. The Knicks got Campy Russell. More importantly, the Richardson-Williams backcourt got a year older, and, presumably, a year wiser. And then there is Boston, which won 61 games last year and which is now trying to build, as coach Bill Fitch says, "a new house." He's got all year to construct one, but the housewarming will have to be held in a mini-series. The Sixers win the division with ease.


Milwaukee is ready. Should Bob Lanier not play a game, the Bucks could still beat the turkey teams, home or away. They could still beat any good team at home. They could be a darkhorse title threat. With him they are now as good as anybody, and if he plays in enough games, they are the best bet to win 60 games. Atlanta could be ready by playoff time, but injuries to both Tree Rollins and Tommy Burleson may hamper its start. George McGinnis has been showing off again for the Pacers, but if Ronnie Lester can play at all the Bulls should grab third place. Detroit and Cleveland will engage in the Great Coin Flip Derby.


Welcome to the American League West of basketball, where sincere, earnest, plodding KC is the class of a boring division. The San Antonio Rockets, or the Houston Spurs, would constitute a good club, as each is very incomplete, the Spurs lacking big men with finesse and the Rockets lacking muscle. Denver has three quality players in David Thompson, Dan Issel and Alex English, but that's about five short of the minimum nightly requirement for victory. Utah escapes the cellar because of Dallas, which, in turn, will lose in the most comfortable surroundings this side of a Ritz suite, if we can believe all we hear about the new Reunion Arena in downtown Big D.


Six Games You Don't Want To Miss will be played by Phoenix and Seattle as the fierce divisional rivals seek to demonstrate the correctness of The Trade from their respective standpoints. Trade or no trade, these two clubs are capable of winning 55-plus games, as each did last season. That should be good for second place, since Los Angeles, which returns everybody who mattered, is still the team to beat. Dr. Jack Ramsay will weave an interesting tapestry from his Portland material. Golden State's stated aim was to give itself a face-lift, and with a starting lineup of Joe Barry Carroll, Bernard King, Purvis Short, Lloyd Free and John Lucas they have achieved their aim. Unless Paul Silas receives the gift of Bill Walton's nightly presence, his rookie coaching season will be spent accumulating about two Ls for every W.

Editor's Picks


1. Philadelphia 76ers

2. Boston Celtics

3. New York Knicks

4. New Jersey Nets

5. Washington Bullets


1. Milwaukee Bucks

2. Atlanta Hawks

3. Chicago Bulls

4. Indiana Pacers

5. Detroit Pistons

6. Cleveland Cavaliers


1. Kansas City Kings

2. Houston Rockets

3. San Antonio Spurs

4. Denver Nuggets

5. Utah Jazz

6. Dallas Mavericks


1. Los Angeles Lakers

2. Phoenix Suns

3. Seattle SuperSonics

4. Portland Trail Blazers

5. Golden State Warriors

6. San Diego Clippers

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