When Richard Nixon occupied the White House, he regularly offered his favorite football plays to then-Washington Redskins coach George Allen.
"I've been a Knick fan for a long time, and I'm glad to see they're doing so well," Nixon said Saturday after watching New York beat the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden.
"It's a tough town," said Nixon. "When the Knicks lose a few games, people act as if they're not leading the division. With Riley at the helm, there is no question this team will win a championship. Maybe not this year, but soon."
There was no report on whether Nixon offered Riley any help with his half-court trap before the Knicks lost to the cross-river New Jersey Nets, 90-75, on Sunday.
Parity found: The NBA fathers have sought to use the salary cap and lottery to prevent the rich teams in major cities from dominating the game. Judging by the Eastern Conference standings, the goal of reaching parity (spelled mediocrity) has been accomplished.
Save for the runaway Chicago Bulls and the pursuing Cleveland Cavaliers, no team has won more than 60 percent of its games. Four of the six teams in the Atlantic Division have losing records. It has made for an exciting six-team race for the final three playoff berths, and, possibly, the three that make it could be sub-.500 teams. Only Charlotte, Washington and Orlando are all but eliminated from the chase.
The balance of power has shifted to the Western Conference, where 10 of the 13 teams have winning records, with the slumping Los Angeles Lakers (30-26) clinging to the final playoff berth. If the Lakers fail to qualify, it will mark the first time they've missed the playoffs since the 1974-1975 season.
With their once star-studded roster now peopled by players named Keith Owens, Tony Smith and Jack Haley, the Lakers no longer frighten rivals and lost seven in a row before beating the Knicks last week.
"I never lost seven in a row before," not even in high school," said shooting guard Byron Scott, who played at Inglewood High, just a long jump shot from The Forum. "But you can't worry about what our front office says or the people in Los Angeles. It's just 12 guys who can do something about it."
During the losing streak, someone asked Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy if a team meeting might prove useful. Said Dunleavy: "I'm for anything that helps us play better. You get a Hare Krishna to come in and help us, I'm for it."
Dubious award: Phoenix Suns boss Cotton Fitzsimmons, who won Coach of the Year honors in the 1988-89 season, is the only coach to win the honor still with the same team. In the past six years, Mike Fratello (Atlanta), Mike Schuler (Portland), Doug Moe (Denver), Riley (Lakers) and Don Chaney (Houston) were either fired or left before being pushed. "I guess it doesn't pay to win it," said Fitzsimmons.
Happy reunion: Is it a mere coincidence that three of the four 30-plus-point games forward Danny Manning has this season have come since his former coach at Kansas, Larry Brown, took over the L.A. Clippers on Feb. 6?
Said Brown, who has the Clippers in the playoff hunt, "It's nothing that I've done. Danny has just started to elevate his game, but he started to come on strong this year as opposed to the past when he was slowed by injuries."
But Manning credits Brown with lending a helping hand. "Larry's changed from Kansas, and everything's been great so far," he said. He used to get upset real easily. Now, he's been real cool, but he's never afraid to sit you down when he doesn't like what he sees on the floor."
Some Stat-ic: The Nets (27-31), who were ready to fire Bill Fitch in December, have won more games than they did all of last season. The Miami Heat, with 27 victories under new head coach Kevin Loughery, is three ahead of last year's 24-win total. Conversely, the Lakers (30-26) have lost two more games than last season. Boston (32-26), which struggled without Larry Bird, has matched last season's loss total.