Welcome to the land of the giants and The Jumper (a.k.a. David Thompson), the home of the sky-hook, the vegetarian center, the underhanded free throw and Hollywood Squares at courtside.
It's the wacky wonderful NBA West playoffs, featuring a coach, Al Attles, called Battleship and a team, the Detroit Pistons, whose tumultuous locker room often resembled one. Would somebody please take Kevin Porter off his coach's back?
This has been the season of the early sport (Denver, Portland) and the fabulous finish (Chicago, Los Angeles) in the West a year daily medical bulletin sand X-rays overshadowed the box scores and season averages in Detroit and Portland.
For the playoffs beginning Tuesday, only one thing is certain. Los Angeles and Denver won't have to play for at least a week because of their division championships.
"All I can say is it's going to be on hellacious rate to the finish," said Denver general manger Carl Scheer. "Anybody can win. I know, I know, every year they say it. This year, people mean it."
There is always talk at playoff time about homecourt advantage. This year it is justified in the West because Los Angeles will have it all through the playoffs. Going into the weekend, the Lakers had lost only four times at home. No wonder they call it the Fabulous Forum.
The Nuggets were no slouches in the Mile High City. With Thompson leaping regularly toward Pike's Peak. Denver won 36 of 41 at home as attendance soared to capacity.
But other forces may be at work in the West One will be that old standy, momentum. The Chicago Bulls have plenty of that and Artis Gilmore as well. These bully boys have won 19 of their last 23 games and have a 10-game winning streak.
"They may be the most dangerous team of all," said Laker coach Jerry West. "Look what Phoenix did last year. They finished real strong, barely got into the playoffs and jelled when it really counted all the way to the finals. Chicago is the same way."
Portland and Detroit also will be factors as long as their two big battered bodies hold up.
The Trail Blazers know that with center Bill Walton playing, they won 43 and lost 21. Without him, they were 5-12. Walton has missed two games with a twisted knee, 10 games with an inflamed achilles tendon and five because of a sprained ankle.
Walton has been able to play regularly the last three weeks and team sources say he is operating near his peak. With Walton and forward Maurice Lucas, the Blazers are an awesome rebounding and fastbreaking team. Without Walton, they must start Robin Jones, a walk-on in training camp. Robin who? Simply, the Blazers won't be worth bird-seed if Walton can't play.
In Detroit, the Pistons misfire without big Bob Lanier in the middle. He played Friday night after missing 15 games with a fractured bone in his right hand (he shoots lefthanded). The Pistons lost 10 of those games.
Lanier's presence is vital because two other important players also are hurting. Marvin Barnes has a broken left hand and won't be ready to play for at least another three weeks. Guard Ralph Simpson has bad tendinitis of the knee. He may not play at all.
In the land of Golden State, there is more concern with one man's mental state than anyone's physical well-being. He is Rick Barry, one NBA general manager said recently, "When Rick wants to play, they're great; when he doesn't, they're awful. They are the mystery team, no question."
Barry apparently is starting to care. He had 40 points against the Lakers and 32 against the Nets last week, has shot 60 per cent his last five games and averaged 26.5 points over the last 11.
The Warriors have been consistently inconsistent. Despite losing their first six away games, they have the second-best road record in the league. And although they won or split season series against most of the playoff teams, they lost series to New Orleans, Seattle, Milwaukee, Kansas City and the Knicks. No wonder a psychiatrist sits on the team bench.
The Lakers seem to have few problems Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can't solve. The dominant one has added a devastating short-range jumper to his scoring arsenal, averages 27 points, 13.5 rebounds and three blocked shots a game and seems a cinch for a fifth MVP award.
Jazzy Cazzie Russell also is enjoying perhaps his finest season, averaging 16.3 points on 55 per cent shooting with a wild assortment of shots.
But defense has been the real name of the game for the Lakers. A year ago, they finished 17th in the league. This season, they are fourth, and have allowed an average of 99 points over the last 16 games.
The Lakers also are no strangers to the playoffs. That always helps. Unfortunately, the man they called Mr. Clutch is now their coach. Someone else will have to take the game-winning shot.
In Denver, the Nuggets are looking forward to a week of rest before their playoff series. "Some teams use the regular season to get ready for the playoffs," said general manager Scheer. "But I've always believed in an all-out effort during the year. You fans are paying a lot of money, and they deserve to see you put out every night."
Scheer admits that sort of attitude may well have been responsible for his team's disappointing playoff performance the last two years. "I hope we can have a rejuvenation," he said. "I'm sure we will."
The Nuggets had a 28-12 record against Western Conference opponents, but have a knack for losing the close ones. In games settled by five points or less, the Nuggets have won only four of 14.
In rough situations, the Nuggets go to Thompson and Bobby Jones. Over the last 32 games, Thompson has averaged 28 points, four rebounds five assists, 51 per cent shooting and countless leaps into the stratosphere.
Jones also is gearing up for the big games. In his last seven games, he's hit 43 of 58 shots, an astonishing 74 per cent.
The final pairings won't be known until tonight.
"Who do I want to play?" Jerry West asked last week. "Nobody."