Larry Bird senses the chase is going to be exciting. He is looking forward to it. The smile on his face, the gleam in his eyes tell the story ahead of his words.
"Won't it be great," he says, "if we keep playing good ball and stay close to Philly for all those games we have with them at the end of the year? Those are really going to be fun."
Even though his second year in the NBA has been somewhat of a transition, Bird has been doing his part for the Celtics with a hot shooting hand lately.
"Teams are playing me differently than they did a year ago. Most of all, they are trying to deny me the ball. If I got it, let's say, 20 times a year ago, now they would like to try to get it down to 10. I have to work a little harder to get it, and, when I do, they want to try to force me into the middle where they can get some help.
"I've had to adjust my game a little, but I don't care what they do as long as I feel I'm contributing to the offense. I had a game recently where I didn't shoot for 26 minutes. Well, I didn't realize it had happened until Bob Ryan (Globe basketball writer) told me after the game. I think I wasn't aware of it because I was moving the ball and making some plays."
Bird is happy with the way the team has been playing. He thinks they have adjusted surprisingly well after the retirement of Dave Cowens just before the season.
"When you thought of the Celtics, you thought of Dave, and all the things he contributed to the team. I wondered what it was going to be like playing without him. I had played against Robert (Parish), but we didn't see him enough to know all of the things he can do. He's really done a great job for us.
"But it really makes a difference for us with him and Kevin (McHale) in there, the way they can block shots and work the middle on defense. You can be guarding a guy, and he beats you on a drive, but then has his shot blocked. You can see the next time he's thinking before he's going to try it again."
Bird, according to coach Bill Fitch, is progressing just about the way he expected him to. But, adds Fitch: "He can play better. I'm serious. I think he's a better shooter right now than he was in college. He'd score 20- something points a game in college, shooting against zone defenses. Here he's playing against tougher defense and still scoring the same way. He's got some moves now that he didn't have in college."-
Patriot owner Bill Sullivan said the sentiments expressed by some of the team's top players on the team had a major impact on coach Ron Erhardt's new contract. "Guys like John Hannah, Steve Nelson and Mike Haynes spoke to me about it personally. They told me how highly they regarded Ron. Hannah said that he felt Erhardt shouldered the blame for some of the failings of the team this year, when they weren't his fault. I think they all respected him for the way he has handled the team. I do, too."
Before next season, Erhardt will make a major effort to find a way to hold his defensive unit together late in big games. The Patriots have had a nagging problem with opponents moving for TDs late in critical games. It happened this year against Buffalo, Houston and Miami.
"As a whole, we played much better on defense this year. We didn't have nearly as many mental errors as we did in the past, and that's an area we worked hard on this season. But it still upsets me to think of some of those games, and others we've had like that over the years. We just have to break everything down, study it, evaluate it, and try to see if we can find a reason for it.
"Offensively, I look for big changes in football next year. I think we just got a little look at it this year with more teams using the Shotgun and various types of formations. There will be more teams using more formations. You have to do that stuff now, and be flexible with it, to start shaking up these defenses."-
Boston College will have a new head coach by Jan. 8. "That's at the latest," says athletic director Bill Flynn. "The recruits can start being visited the next week, and we want to have our man by then. We won't have to go begging. A lot of people want to coach football at Boston College. We have been inundated by applications.
"My plan is to talk to other athletic directors who have just been involved in interviewing coaching candidates. I'll talk with a lot of commissioners of the various conferences, and just about anyone who thinks he has a strong candidate. I'll try to get the list down to three or four, then present it to our athletic board."