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A long view of Houston and Boston

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The National Basketball Association playoffs are almost won by the team having the best center -- a lesson in history in which some of the key figures have been Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Each has played on at least two world championship teams, and Russell, of course , led the old Boston Celtics to an incredible 11 titles in 13 years.

It probably would be a mistake, however, to assume that the Houston Rockets are going to beat the 1980-81 Celtics in the current playoff finals just because they have the league's outstanding pivotman in 6 ft. 11 in. Moses Malone. While Moses is every great thing they say he is, including maybe the league's most valuable player, his supporting cast might not be quite good enough to get him into the winner's circle.

First let's acknowledge that this is not the same Houston team that lost two more games than it won during the regular season while finishing in a tie with Kansas City for second place in the NBA's Midwest Division. This is a team that didn't really come together until the playoffs when it suddenly found holes in the Los Angeles Lakers' defense; chinks in the San Antonio Spurs' armor; and cavities in the Kansas City Kings' board work.

For this, Head Coach Del Harris deserves the ultimate tribute for the way he has organized his defense; kept Malone the hub of his offense; and provided Moses with the help he needed on the boards by constantly rotating three forwards. Their names are Robert Reid, Billy Paultz, and Bill Willoughby.

Harris has also substituted well, not only by keeping as much fresh personnel on the floor as possible, but by making sure that none of his players gets overpowered in matchups.


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