1991 NBA PLAYOFFS PRO BASKETBALL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta Hawks

Record: 43-39, fourth in Central Division.

Strengths: Dominique Wilkins has scored less, but improved his overall game and leadership. Spud Webb, 5-7, proved he belonged in league. Kevin Willis and Moses Malone provide strong offensive rebounding.

Weaknesses: Jon Koncak has proved a major bust at center. The Hawks are vulnerable to a trapping defense. The Pistons won all 5 meetings between the teams this season.

Boston Celtics

Record: 56-26, first in Atlantic Division.

Strengths: The return of Brian Shaw and emergence of Kevin Gamble and rookie Dee Brown gave Celtics a much-needed injection of speed. The Frontcourt of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Reggie Lewis, plus sixth man Kevin McHale, is the league's best when healthy. Memories of an embarrassing Game 5 loss to the Knicks at Boston Garden in last year's first round -- after leading series 2-0 -- figure to make the Celtics more focused this time around.

Weaknesses: Bird and McHale, both injury-prone, could wear down in a long series.

Chicago Bulls

Record: 61-21, first in Central Division.

Strengths: Michael Jordan can win games by himself. Scottie Pippen has emerged as an All-Star forward. Chicago is difficult to beat in Chicago Stadium (35-6), where it won a team-record 26 straight this year. The Bulls have the league's second-best field-goal percentage (.510). The best regular-season record in franchise history could signal the first finals appearance.

Weaknesses: Bench play was sporadic throughout the season, particularly on the boards. Beat up on all the league's weaklings, but managed only a 21-18 record vs. opponents with records over .500.

Detroit Pistons

Record: 50-32, second in Central Division.

Strengths: Leadership ability of Isiah Thomas, clutch shooting of Joe Dumars, and best team defense in the league, allowing only 96 points a game.

Weaknesses: They were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NBA. Injuries have haunted Detroit in bid for a three-peat. Besides Thomas' wrist, center James Edwards and forward Mark Aguirre both missed late-season games with recurring back problems.

Indiana Pacers

Record: 41-41, fifth in Central Division.

Strengths: The Pacers have an explosive offense, led by Reggie Miller, Chuck Person and sixth man Detlef Schrempf.

Weaknesses: Inside game is unimpressive despite 7-4 Rik Smits and 7-1 Greg Dreiling. Smits averages only 5 rebounds a game.

Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 48-34, third in Central Division.

Strengths: Forced a league-high 19 turnovers a game thanks in large part to Alvin Robertson, the league's No. 1 pickpocket for the second straight season.

Weaknesses: Slowness afoot from Bucks frontcourt players helped quicker opponents score more than a few uncontested baskets in transition. Opponents shot close to 50 percent against Bucks, the second-worst percentage among playoff teams.

New York Knicks

Record: 39-43, third in Atlantic Division.

Strengths: The inside power of Patrick Ewing and rebounding of Charles Oakley.

Weaknesses: Worst home record of any playoff qualifier, and only playoff team under .500 overall for the season. Starting guard Gerald Wilkins, recovering from a sprained ankle, will come off the bench, and Oakley is returning from a minor knee injury.

Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 44-38, second in Atlantic Division.

Strengths: The overpowering play of Charles Barkley and explosive scoring of Hersey Hawkins.

Weaknesses: The 76ers need Barkley to lead them, but how he'll perform after a recent leg injury is uncertain. The bench is woefully thin. Last week, veteran Robert Reid was added.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Golden State Warriors

Record: 44-38, fourth in Pacific Division.

Strengths: The so-called "Run T.M.C." combo (Tim, Mitch, Chris) gives the Warriors 3 players with a 20-points-plus scoring average. That's Tim Hardaway (23 points, 10 assists), G Mitch Richmond (24 points) and F Chris Mullin (26 points).

Weaknesses: The bench play is almost nonexistent. They outscored the opposing bench only once this season. Terrible road record (13-27) for a playoff team. Defensive play almost nonexistent: their 18.8 turnover average is the worst in the NBA.

Houston Rockets

Record: 52-30, third in Midwest Division.

Strengths: The Rockets were the hottest team after the All-Star Game, pulling together in absence of injured superstar Hakeem Olajuwon. Kenny Smith has solidified the backcourt.

Weaknesses: Fast-break offense can sometimes lead to an overload of turnovers (17 a game). The bench lacks depth.

Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 58-24, second in Pacific Division.

Strengths: Magic Johnson still is the prototype guard in a pressure situation. The addition of Sam Perkins eased the scoring burden on James Worthy.

Weaknesses: Neither Larry Drew or Tony Smith has proven adequate as Johnson's backup. C Vlade Divac is still hampered by inconsistency and foul trouble. Reserve strength is limited. The Lakers could have quite a few problems with Houston in the first round, since the Rockets had the second-best record (to Portland) after the All-Star break and upset them in '81 and '86.

Phoenix Suns

Record: 55-27, third in Pacific Division.

Strengths: Phoenix has one of the finest pure point guards in Kevin Johnson and a valuable sixth man in Dan Majerle. The Suns really took off once they landed Xavier McDaniel from Seattle in an early-season deal. They were only 2 games over .500 at the time, but finished tied for the third-best record in the West.

Weaknesses: Late-season injuries to Johnson and Tom Chambers make them vulnerable in the playoffs, although Negele Knight and Cedric Ceballos performed adequately as fill-ins. Not a particularly strong team on the offensive boards. Suns showed a lack of toughness in repeatedly blowing big leads to Portland in last year's playoffs.

Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 63-19, first in Pacific Division.

Strengths: The talent-laden Blazers started and finished fast. All the title ingredients are here, topped by the All-Star backcourt of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, the frontcourt quickness of Jerome Kersey and Cliff Robinson and the solid leadership of Buck Williams.

Weaknesses: The defense is vulnerable, with Blazers preferring to win shootouts.

San Antonio Spurs

Record: 55-27, first in Midwest Division.

Strengths: C David Robinson is considered the center of the '90s and feeds off frontcourt partners Sean Elliott and Terry Cummings. Swingman Willie Anderson is explosive scorer.

Weaknesses: Lack of a backup for playmaker Rod Strickland, who missed 28 games with a broken hand as a result of a bar brawl. Team owner Red McCombs questions the team's commitment to winning the title.

Seattle SuperSonics

Record: 41-41, fifth in Pacific Division.

Strengths: The mid-year additions of Ricky Pierce and Benoit Benjamin gave added depth to youthful team epitomized by power F Shawn Kemp.

Weaknesses: Allowed 105 points a game. Record is under .500 in games decided by 3 points or fewer. Rookie playmaker Gary Payton has not fulfilled his vast potential, leaving the Sonics devoid of a proven floor leader.

Utah Jazz

Record: 54-28, second in Midwest Division.

Strengths: Addition of shooting G Jeff Malone eased scoring burden for Karl Malone and peerless playmaker John Stockton. Forced to look outside for their points, Utah's opponents shot only 46 percent from the field.

Weaknesses: Outside of Blue Edwards, the bench isn't much. Not a great shooting team (49 percent), either.

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