When we last visited the National Basketball Association. Bill Walton and his Portland friends had won themselves a league title by finding an antidote to Dr. J's mystical magic. The NBA could use another antidote to end the turmoil and trauma that have occurred since.

There have been so many roster changes in the past five months that programs are sure to be the hottest selling item at league arenas this year. Otherwise, identifying all the new Buffalo Braves without help may be the league's leading trivia question until December.

The much-heralded era of the free agent proved as exciting as a Pacer-Hawk game; the 76ers didn't honor any of the those "trade me" demands: Walton didn't retire to meditate but hurt his back instead chopping wood; and Kent Benson will not - repeat, will not - be the next Abdul-Jabbar. He may not even be the next Tom Boerwinkle.

The balance of last year (six teams had from 48 to 53 victories) should be replaced this time around by an Awesome Threesome, the Portland Blazers, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Lost Angeles Lakers.

Each team has a big enough weakness to make it vulnerable, but their frailties are more cracks compared to everyone else's canyons. Or would you believe the Hawks' best players in preseason was Ollie Johnson?

If Darryl Dawkins can shine as much as his bald head, the Mers may fulfill their matto ("We Owe You One"). Otherwise, unless we've Grossly underestimated the Trail Blazers again, look for the restocked Lakers to present Jack Kent Cooke with his second championship trophy. EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division, The Biggest explosion in Philly since the Bicentennial fireworks may occur Wednesday if Dawkins doesn't start at center.

The 76er attack remains just as explosive, even with Julius Erving still recovering from knee surgery. The philly front office chose to stay with the same cast and not trade Lloyd Free for a playmaker, so coach Gene Shue is seeking improvement through increased discipline and better defense.

If all that fails, he can fails back on the incredible Dr. J, a slimmed-down George McGinnis (who has broken his playoff slump) and Mr. Perpetual Motion, Doug Collins.

The Celtics added Dave Bing (age 33) and haven't signed Sidney Wicks (age 28), which makes them older, slower and unpredictable. These Redskins of pro basketball have one guard (Jo Jo White) hobbed by sore feet and another (Charlie Scott) plagued by turnoveritis.

No. 1 draft choice Cornbread Maxwell isn't ready to cook in the pros yet, and center Dave Cowens may be stronger from an offseason weight program, but where is his spark? And how much longer can John Havlicek run?

New coach Willis Reed has ignited a fast-break fire under the Knicks, and they were raging for most of the preseason. The talent to be a barnburner certainly is there: Spencer Haywood (returning from an injury), Bob (can Do) McAdoo, Earl Monroe, new play-maker Jim Cleamons and a bunch of sparkling rookies, including guard Ray Williams and Glen Gondrezick, a second-round pick who may prove to be the steal of the draft.

But the Knicks' defense would be a lot tougher with Reed, not Lonnie Shelton, helping McAdoo in the middle.

Buffalo's tiny hope for improvement by its Braves snapped along with Nate Archibald's achilles tendon last week. Owner J.Y. Brown, who trades faster than a Kentucky horse dealer, now wishes John Shumate would turn into Sidney Wicks and center Swen Nater would turn into, oh, Bill Walton.

Barring those transformations, it will be a lot of "watch ex-Pacer Billy Knight shoot" - and too little of "watch the Braves worry about the other guys scoring."

Bernard King isn't enough to help the Nets, who have Bubbles Hawkins, Darnell (Mr. Dunk) Hillman, a new home at Rutgers and a coach, Kevin Loughery, who deserves a lot better.

Central Division: The bad news for Washington fans is that the Rockets feel they are better than last year. The reasoning in Houston is sound: pesky John Lucas and boy wonder Moses Malone, king of the offensive rebound, should be more mature after a season's experience and their fastbreak was crisper than ever in the preseason.

Coach Tom Nissalke tried moving Mike Newlin to forward, but when Rudy White broke an ankle, the change was called off and Newlin has beaten out Calvin Murphy in the backcourt. And to make matters worse for the Bullets, even Dwight Jones and Kevin Kunnert have shown improvement, much to the Rockets' surprise.

Walt Frazier and his Rolls Royce have taken up residence somewhere between Cleveland and Akron, which is where the Cavaliers play their home games.

His new mates need the Clyde of old to direct coach Bill Fitch's controlled offense, but Frazier probably won't be able to correct the team's erratic perimeter shooting.

The Cavaliers failed to help themselves in the draft and neither Jim Chones nor Elmore Smith have impressed at center. Frazier will need to be cool this season. Real cool.

San Antonio's best defense is its offense, and that should be enough to enable the Spurs to challenge both Houston and Washington - if guard James Silas can ever rehabilitate his knee.

He missed most of last season and isn't nearly at full strength now. He was the best guard in the ABA when that league folded, and his added firepower should enable the Spurs to average more than last year's leaguebest 115 points per game. But can no defense be enough defence in the playoffs?

The New Orleans Jazz spent a truckful of Bourbon Street money to lure Leonard Robinson from Atlanta. He'll help strengthen rebounding - as will ex-Hawk Joe Meriweather - but he won't replace E. C. Coleman on defense. And now Gail Goodrich is healthy and hopeful of getting the ball enough from Pete Maravich to take a few shots. But so is Robinson, which doesn't leave much for anyone else, and that is a problem.

Atlanta's Hawks couldn't win in the exhibition season, so there isn't much hope now. Tree Rollins is the new center and John Drew will try to do as much as he can at forward.

Beyond that, the Hawks' plight is best shown by what happened to Rich Laurel, Portland's No. 1 choice whom Atlanta got in a controversial deal. In his first exhibition game, Laurel was 0 for 16 from the floor.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Midwest Division: Off last year's finish, Denver is the logical favorite, but a season-ending collapse by the Universityof North Carolina's pro extension school caused wholesale shuffling of the Nuggests.

Coach Larry Brown says his revamped squad will shine with David (Mr. Sky) Thompson back at guard for another trial and with Bob Wilkerson (from Seattle) at forward. Brian Taylor (from Kansas City) is the new playmaker and rookies Tom LaGarde and Bo Ellis lend bench help.

"It was along season for me last year," Brown said, and it could be more of the same this year unless his youngsters mature quickly.

As Denver was faultering in March, Chicago's Bulls were charging, once Artis Gilmore remembered he wasn't in the ABA anymore. If Scot May can shake knee problems, he'll help supply more inside scoring.

Or the Bulls can turn to that wandering man. Nick Weatherspoon, who has never been shy about shooting.

Slow progress by newcomers Tate Armstrong, Steve Sheppard and Mark Landsberger contributed to a poor exhibition record, but coach Ed Badger is still bullish on his team.

Nobody may be able to stop the Detroit Pistons in the division if their new peace of mind holds up for long. Everything has been love and kisses during training camp as coach Herb Brown tries to bring direction to his fragmented squad.

Bob Lanier is content with a long-term contract and the guard depth is the league's best, but the Pistons need Marvin Barnes to finally fufill his promise. And who knows what affect a summer in prison will have on that Damon Runyon character?

Word is the Kings may surprise some Kansas City folks this year, but first new center Tom Burleson (from Seattle) needs to heed word from coach Phil Johnson to shoot more.

Ex-Laker Lucius Allen is still trying to forget about Portland's guards, but he'll get help from rookie shooting whiz Otis Birdsong. And Richard Washington was spotted passing up and 18-footer for a driving layup during an exhibition game. Things are changing in the Land of Hearty Steaks.

No team has changed more than the Milwaukee Bucks, who will trot out their three prized rookies! Benson, Marques Johnson and Ernie Grunfeld.

Johnson has been dazzling in training camp and Grunsfeld has been solid. Benson has been disappointing. The Bucks found he was only 6-9 and slow and couldn'tjump. Yet he's smart and willing and should mature with a team that could be a contender next year.

If Adrian Dantley thought things were hard for him at Buffalo last year, wait until he finds out how tough it will be for him to get the ball in Indiana with the Pacers.

They now have gunner Rick Sobers to go with gunner John Williamson in the backcourt, and neither has been noted for his passing. Better hit those offensive boards, Adrian.

Pacific Division: The Los Angeles Lakers had a league-best 53 wins last year before their guard problems caught up with them in the playoffs.

Now coach Jerry West thinks they are "20 per cent" better after surrounding Abdul-Jabbar with ex-free agent Jamaal Wilkes, sweet Lou Huddson, Ernie (Kareen's My D) DiGregorio, rookies Kenny Carr and Norm Nixon and a healthy Kermit Washington.

Nixon, Hudson and Earl Tatum are supposed to be the answer at guard, but they still may not be quick enough to pass the playoff test.

Nothing has changed in Portland with the Trail Blazers. Walton is still Walton, the guards are still lighting fast, Bob Gross is still Mr. Anonymous and Maurice Lucas is still everyone's candidate to challenge Muhammad Ali.

Another quality forward wouldn't hurt Portland at all, especially in a prolonged series against these Laker bullies, but as long as Walton stays away from the woodpile in the regular season, none of the Trail Blazers worry about anything very much.

Can Rick Barry play up to par for another season? Can rookie Rickey Green replace Gus Williams in the backcourt for the Golden State Warriors? Is Robert Parish ready to become an outstanding NBA center? Is E.C. Coleman (from New Oleans) a replacement for Jamaal Wilkes? Unless the answer to all of the above is yes, coach Al Attles faces a struggling season. How things can change in three years for the once-champion Warriors.

If Phoenix coach John MacLeod could have had two reasonable wishes for sis Suns at the end of last season, he would have asked for an end to injuries and a quick forward. So far, he's two for two.

The Suns' wounded (Gar Heard, Alvin Adams, Curtis Perry) are either healed or almost healthy, and rookie Walter Davis has been the sensation of training camp at forward. Toss in Don Busse (from Indian) the NBA assist and steal leader last year, and the Suns have reason to think their fortunes will shine pretty soon.

Seattle has a lot of new faces, starting with Super Sonie coach Bob Hopkins, but so far either most have been disappointing (Marvin Webster, Paul Silas) or limping (Willie Wise). Still, there has been progress. During one exhibition game, the SuperSonics actually were caught running a play Bill Russell would never believe it.