For openers, 76ers' Bradley comes up short

Poor Shawn Bradley.

In the season opener against the Washington Bullets on Friday night, the Philadelphia 76ers' 7-foot-6 rookie scored just six points and grabbed five rebounds -- matching the total of point guard Johnny Dawkins.


On Saturday, Bradley went up against the Orlando Magic's Shaquille O'Neal, who ripped the rookie with 36 points -- and nine dunks -- in 33 minutes.

"He felt a little light leaning against me," O'Neal said after the matchup of the top centers chosen in the past two NBA drafts. "I think maybe he should try to be a little more aggressive, and he's going to have to get stronger. At 7-6, he should be dunking the ball every time he touches it."


Dunking? Unfortunately for the 76ers, Bradley has problems just putting it in the basket. In the first two games, Bradley has hit just four of 23 shots (17.3 percent). In the preseason, the 76ers constantly fed Bradley the ball in an attempt to help him gain confidence in his offensive game, but indications are that strategy is a long way from paying off.

His eight blocks against Washington on Friday show that Bradley can swat, but so can Manute Bol. It's unfair to compare the two because Bradley, who has an eight-year, $42 million contract, is much more skilled offensively. He runs the court well, can pass the ball and is a good help defender.

But he may never realize his potential if he's unable to add some weight and muscle to his frame. In the meantime, Bradley's education continues. Tonight he faces Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. Tomorrow night it's Robert Parish and the Boston Celtics.

For Bradley, it's not exactly an easy opening week.

The rap on Shaq

If there's any question about who's the NBA's new mega-star, go to the nearest newsstand. This month, O'Neal races the covers of GQ and Rolling Stone.

Why Rolling Stone? Because of the release of his debut rap album, "Shaq Diesel." And if you turn on any rap video show, you might see O'Neal rapping to his first release, "I Know I Got Skillz."

The song is apparently doing well on some Orlando radio stations, where it's in the top three among requests.


No Blazing start

You're Chris Dudley and, for some reason, you're hot property. You turn down a seven-year, $21 million contract with the New Jersey Nets for a seven-year, $11 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers -- with the stipulation that after a year you can become a free agent. At that time the Trail Blazers can open the vault, because teams are able to exceed the salary cap when retaining a free agent.

All I have to say to Dudley is, I hope you have it all in writing.

In Dudley's first game as a Trail Blazer, he was scoreless, shooting 0-for-7 against the Los Angeles Clippers. On Sunday against the Houston Rockets, Dudley scored two points (1-for-4).

Still, Portland officials are not alarmed.

"When I was researching [Dudley], I called a lot of the assistants in the Eastern Conference to try to get a good feeling on just who Chris Dudley was," said Bucky Buckwalter, Portland's vice president of basketball operations. "After a long hesitation, one guy finally answered, 'He's an acquired taste.'


"He's not going to be flashy, but he's going to be good," Buckwalter added. "Dudley will anchor the defense in the middle, and if you look at when we were real good, it was our defense that led us."

Shooting will help, too. Portland dropped to 0-2 with Sunday's loss, shooting 39 percent. The starting front line, through two games, is 11-for-42 (26.1 percent).

"It's so early, so I don't see any reason to go crazy," guard Clyde Drexler said. "But this team is not used to losing, especially in the beginning. We have high expectations."

Central contenders

Since Michael Jordan decided to pack away his Nikes, the talk has been how wide-open the Central Division will be, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets mentioned most prominently as the teams to replace the Chicago Bulls atop the division.

It's early, but Cleveland is 0-2 after losses to Milwaukee and New York. On Friday, Charlotte couldn't beat the Bulls, but bounced back the next night with a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.


Injuries will play a major role for the Hornets and Cavaliers, who face each other tonight in Richfield, Ohio. The Cavaliers are without shot-blocking forward Larry Nance, who injured his knee in the opener. He's scheduled for arthroscopic surgery today, and is out indefinitely.

The Hornets are waiting for the full recovery of all-star forward Larry Johnson, who got a 12-year, $84 million deal despite being treated over the summer for a bulging disk in his back; and second-year center Alonzo Mourning, who sat out part of the preseason with tendinitis in his knee.

"Larry's at about 80 percent, but his back is fine," said Dave Twardzik, Hornets director of player personnel. "Any time you're dealing with a back, you use words of caution. The disk caused a little bit of nerve damage."

Twardzik, meanwhile, described Mourning as being 70 percent.

Worth mentioning . . .

* In two games, Orlando's O'Neal is averaging 39 points and 9.5 rebounds and is shooting 72 percent. He gets to boost his stats tonight against the Indiana Pacers and Rik Smits.


* Smits, the Pacers' 7-4 center, fouled out in six minutes in Saturday's loss to the Detroit Pistons -- the second-fastest departure in league history.

* Denver Nuggets guard Bryant Stith's shooting percentage through two games is .083 (2-for-24). Stith was 0-for-7 in an opening-night loss to the Sacramento Kings and 2-for-17 in Sunday's win over the Clippers.

* Maybe the Atlanta Hawks are trying to tell backup center Jon Koncak something. His name is spelled "Konack" on his road jersey.