If there were doubts about whether Anfernee Hardaway could lead the Orlando Magic to the next level, the second-year point guard is erasing them.
Yesterday, Hardaway was named the league Player of the Week after averaging 32.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in a 4-0 week, and is a big reason why the Magic has the best record in the NBA going into tonight.
Eight days ago against Miami, after Shaquille O'Neal picked up his fourth foul with 8:58 left in the third quarter, Hardaway went on to score 17 of his game-high 30 points the rest of the quarter in a 124-89 victory.
Two nights later, in a nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets, Hardaway had 29 points, nine rebounds, six assists and a career-high seven steals in Orlando's win. Again, he stepped up after O'Neal got into third-quarter foul trouble.
When O'Neal goes out, Hardaway goes down to the low post. And he has been successful, using his 6-foot-7 size to score easily over smaller point guards.
"We know that when the big fella goes out, a lot of teams are thinking, 'We have a chance to go at Orlando,' " Hardaway said. "When he goes out, I try to utilize my skills against smaller point guards."
Horace Grant's presence also is paying dividends. In the win over Houston, the Magic held the Rockets to eight points in the first quarter, and Grant held Hakeem Olajuwon to 1-for-7 shooting from the field.
"I'm glad we've got Horace," O'Neal said. "He can defend guys TC like that [who play away from the basket]. He'll probably stick David Robinson, too."
Knicks are nicked up
It looks as if Orlando's rise might be enough to supplant the New York Knicks as the top team in the East. The Knicks, at the USAir Arena tonight to face the Washington Bullets, have demonstrated a new running style, but that could be halted by injuries to key players.
Center Patrick Ewing, who had surgery on his right knee in the off-season, is averaging 20.4 points a game but is still not 100 percent. He's forced to ice his knees heavily after games and sat out a game against the Atlanta Hawks just over a week ago with the injury. When the team has off days, Ewing -- who missed all of the preseason -- generally does not practice.
"There's a long time to go, and a lot of games to play," Ewing said of missing the game.
Equally important is the injury to Charles Oakley, who has a dislocated toe on his right foot. Oakley put off surgery in the preseason and hoped that some specially designed shoes from Nike would help him. But he wore the sneakers during a recent workout and found that the toe hurt worse than before.
"It's like a muffler that's hanging," Oakley said. "Sooner or later, with wear and tear, it's going to fall off. I don't think I can go the whole season like this."
Oakley's now considering surgery, which would force him to miss several months. A monster on the boards, losing Oakley would be too much for the Knicks to overcome.
On Pace for a title?
On a team that fell just short of representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals last season, Indiana Pacers coach Larry Brown has a problem. Two veteran players, Vern Fleming and LaSalle Thompson, sit on the end of the bench and hardly play. And while Brown wants to give them a chance to go elsewhere and play, neither wants to go.
"Looking around the league at some of the garbage, there are some teams I could go to and play a lot of minutes," Fleming said. "Sure, I want to play. But the goal is to win a championship. To be on a Pacers team with a chance to win a championship is what kept me through all the bad years here."
You kind of wish that more players in the league would have the same attitude as Fleming, who has spent all 11 of his NBA seasons with the Pacers.
Around the league
Former Bullets forward Pervis Ellison could be in a Boston Celtics uniform by next week. Ellison, limited to 47 games last season after surgery to both knees, is practicing and the team wants to see how he handles a week of workouts before it activates him. . . . There were rumors that Maurice Cheeks, an assistant coach with Philadelphia, would make a comeback with the team. But team owner Harold Katz put that speculation to rest last week. "We have no plans to bring him back and we're going through with plans for retiring his number [Feb. 6]," Katz said. . . . Denver Nuggets forward Brian Williams apparently has been getting fashion and grooming tips from Dennis Rodman. Williams, who played at the University of Maryland and Arizona, has shaved his head, inserted a ring in his nose and dyed his goatee blond.
Quotes of the week
When Charlotte Hornets forward Larry Johnson, who missed most of last season with a bad back and is still not 100 percent, was asked why he has toned down his on-court behavior, he responded: "When was the last time I had something to talk trash about? You can't do a lot of talking when you're getting your butt kicked."
And from Denver Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo, after getting only one shot attempt in a 113-111 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday: "I'm not getting any touches of the ball on offense. I'm afraid my role is becoming like Manute Bol's."