When Earl Weaver's Orioles were winning or contending fo championships, he would credit his success to the "deep depth" on his roster.
Cleveland coach Lenny Wilkens, who sends his Cavaliers against the Washington Bullets at the Baltimore Arena tonight, never has enjoyed that luxury until this season. In past years, if he found himself minus one or more starters, there was genuine cause for concern.
Tonight, All-Star point guard Mark Price (sprained thumb) will be on the bench and small forward Mike Sanders, recovering from knee surgery, remains on the injured list.
But the Cavaliers (40-21), challenging the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks for the best record in the Eastern Conference, have continued to win, thanks to strong contributions by Terrell Brandon and Gerald Wilkins.
"This is the most depth I've ever had," said Wilkens, following a team practice at UMBC yesterday.
"Before, if I lost a key player like Price, Brad Daugherty, John Williams or Ron Harper [since traded], we really struggled. This year, fortunately, we've been able to get away with it."
Brandon, a first-round selection in 1991, has averaged 13.8 points and 9.5 assists filling in for Price the past four games.
"Terrell has played with a tremendous amount of confidence this season," said Wilkens.
"It's very difficult for a young player, especially a playmaker, to look for his own shot and also distribute the ball. But now he's comfortable with the role."
Wilkins, a former Knick, had a rough period of adjustment his first few months with the Cavaliers, but is now viewed as a critical piece in their playoff drive.
Wilkens, perhaps, is even more pleased with the progress Wilkins has made in the past few months while alternating with Craig Ehlo at shooting guard and filling in for Sanders up front.
"Gerald has been terrific," the coach said. "The biggest thing he gives us is speed on both ends of the court. He is an excellent defender. . . . Offensively, he's very explosive, but now he is also hitting his outside shot consistently."
Said Wilkins, averaging 14.6 points over the past 25 games: "The big difference between Cleveland and New York is that people here want me to succeed. I don't have to fight everybody for everything. I just have to fit in and gear my personality down a bit."
NOTES: Bullets coach Wes Unseld tried to hold a practice yesterday, but the facility at Bowie State was unavailable. G Doug Overton, sidelined since January after thumb surgery, will return Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.