By John Schuhmann


Will we see West and Reed meet on the floor in the NBA championship in late April?
Walter Iooss Jr./NBAE/Getty Images

Dec. 12, 1969 -- When Bill Russell retired at the end of last season, it was the end of an era. The man won 11 championships in 13 seasons in Boston, an amazing feat. And the last one, with many doubting the veteran Celtics, was probably the most amazing of them all.

But while Russell's absence will be felt in Boston, and while Wilt Chamberlain is likely to retire in a few years as well, there's a great new crop of big men taking over the league.

In Baltimore, we have the reigning MVP and Rookie of the Year, Wes Unseld. Unseld anchors a balanced Bullets' squad to the tune of 16 points and 16 rebounds per game.

In San Diego, Elvin Hayes is putting up more impressive numbers than Unseld, but of course, he doesn't have the supporting cast that Unseld has.

Another MVP candidate is the Knicks' Willis Reed. And while Reed doesn't have the numbers that the other bigs do, he is the anchor on the best defensive team the league has seen in a while. The veteran group of Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier is showing everyone how to play team basketball.

So if man can walk on the moon, the NBA can go on without Bill Russell.

Groovy Team of the Week: Philadelphia (3-1)
Square Team of the Week: Baltimore (1-3)

TEAM (LAST WK) REC. BREAKDOWN
1 New York (1) 27-4 It has been a good year for New York sports. The Jets won the Super Bowl, the Mets won the World Series, and the Knicks won 18 straight in November. So losing two games this week might be disappointing, but you have to consider that they played in New York, Milwaukee and Seattle in three consecutive nights.
2 Atlanta (2) 19-10 With more expansion likely, this may be the Hawks' last season in the Western Division, so hopefully, they won't have many more weeks where they play in Los Angeles on Sunday, Atlanta on Tuesday and San Diego on Wednesday. Somehow, they managed to win two of those games (thanks to Walt Hazzard's 27 against L.A. and Lou Hudson's 31 against San Francisco), which may be an indication of how weak the West is this season.
3 Milwaukee (4) 16-13 The Bucks are just in their second season, but thanks to Lew Alcindor, they're starting to look like a real contender in the East. Alcindor, who will probably be making the trip to Philadelphia for the All-Star game, scored 36 points in last Friday's win over Seattle. If the Bucks could somehow acquire a veteran point guard, they could challenge the Knicks, who they lost to twice this week, in the coming years.
4 Baltimore (3) 18-11 The Bullets were able to continue winning for a while without Kevin Loughery, but they're starting to feel his absence, losing four of five and getting blown out at home by the Suns on Wednesday. Still, with The Pearl and Unseld, they could be in far worse shape, and Loughery could be back this week.
5 Philadelphia (8) 13-15 With wins over the Celtics, Royals and Lakers, the Sixers are on the rise, and you never know who's going to lead them. Against Boston, it was Hal Greer with 37. Against Cincinnati, it was Billy Cunningham with 31. And against L.A., it was Archie Clark with 30.
6 Chicago (5) 13-15 After losing a pair of heartbreakers earlier in the week, the Bulls have won two straight behind the hot shooting of Bob Love and Chet Walker. They're in the midst of a stretch where they play eight of nine at Chicago Stadium.
7 San Francisco (6) 13-14 Nate Thurmond and Jeff Mullins are a great inside-out combo, but with Jerry Lucas injured, the Warriors need more consistency out of their supporting cast, as this week's losses to Atlanta and Chicago showed clearly.
8 Los Angeles (7) 13-16 The Lakers are now 8-12 without Wilt Chamberlain and they've dropped their last three with Jerry West out as well. Fortunately, while West will likely sit out tonight's game in Atlanta, he should be back for Sunday's contest against Seattle. Unfortunately, Chamberlain is probably out until March. Still, West and Elgin Baylor (who seems a little banged up himself) should be enough get L.A. to the playoffs, even without the Big Dipper.
9 Detroit (11) 12-16 The Pistons finished their eight-game trip at 4-4 and then picked up a win at home over the Royals last night, despite getting just nine points from Dave Bing. It helps that Jimmie Walker had 30 and Eddie Miles had 27. The worst part of their schedule is over, so they could have a shot at the playoffs if they can play outta sight at Cobo Hall.
10 Cincinnati (9) 13-17 "I Want You Back" could be the theme song for Royals fans these days after the team traded Jerry Lucas to San Francisco for Jim King and Bill Turner after just four games. Still, it wasn't a bad week for Cincinnati, scoring a league-high 156 points against Atlanta on Friday and winning in New York on Tuesday, led by Oscar Robertson's 31.
11 Phoenix (10) 12-17 The Suns are probably wishing that coin toss for the No. 1 pick was two-out-of-three. Neal Walk looks like he'll be a solid player. Still, although he's not technically a rookie, Connie Hawkins is probably the second-best newcomer in the NBA. The streaky Suns salvaged their week with a 30-point win in Baltimore on Wednesday with eight players scoring in double figures.
12 Seattle (14) 10-19 Break up the SuperSonics! They've won three straight, including last night's shocker over the Knicks where Bobs Boozer and Rule combined for 53 points. With Lenny Wilkens doing a brilliant job of setting him up, the Golden Rule is averaging 36.7 over the three-game streak.
13 San Diego (12) 10-17 Averaging 28 and 17, Elvin Hayes is a one-man show in San Diego. Hayes led the league in scoring as a rookie last season, and has a shot at doing it again this year (although Chamberlain's injury could boost Jerry West's scoring average up over 30 points per game). After dropping three straight and six of their last seven, the Rockets got a win over the Hawks on Wednesday.
14 Boston (13) 9-17 When Russell retired, he took the wins with him. The Celtics lost a pair of close games early this week before beating the Lakers at the Garden on Wednesday behind 25 from Emmette Bryant and 20 from John Havlicek. But it's beginning to look like Boston's run of 19 straight trips to the playoffs may be over this year.

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