The way Cleveland's Walt Frazier has been performing this season most NBA teams would be glad to know that he might not be healthy enough to play against them. But not so the Washington Bullets.
If Frazier who has a strained arch, missed Wednesday night's 8 o'clock game at Capital Centre, then he'll be replaced by Austin Carr, who always has been troublesome for the Bullets.
"It was hard to tell if Frazier's absence hurt them because Carr hurt us and he wouldn't have played as much if Frazier had been healthy," said Bullet coach Dick Motta, after Washington downed the Cavaliers, 100-94, Sunday in Cleveland.
Carr had a season-high 22 points in that game playing for Frazier. It was Carr's best effort by far this season, topping a 17-point output when he started for Frazier against Seattle earlier in the year.
"Austin really went to the basket on us and he looked sharp," said Motta, "We wouldn't have figured Frazier for 22 points so Carr actually was a plus for them."
Indeed, none of the Bullets felt the Cavaliers missed Frazier that much.
"Since I've never seen him play for Cleveland, it's hard for me to judge," said Phil Chenier, "but Austin is tough enough. We've always had some great duels."
When Carr was giving starter Kevin Grevey problems on offense, Motta brought in Chenier to see what he could do with the veteran Cavalier guard. Carr scored only four points in the fourth period against Chenier, who had 14 in the same span.
With the addition of Frazier, who leads the club in minutes played (averaging 35 a game), Carr has seen his paying time shrink dramatically.
Last year, only Jim Brewer played more than Carr, who was second on the team in scoring with a 16-point average. This year, Carr is averaging 18 minutes and eight points a game and is making less than 40 per cent of his shots from the field.
However, the Cavaliers have gotten off to a fine start with Frazier in the linecup as a shooting guard and Foots Walker at the playmaking spot formerly occupied by Jim Cleamons.
Until the Bullets defeated them Sunday, they were leading the Central Division, despite preseason predictions that they would not be a contending club.
During the recent seven-game winning streak, only one opponent was able to score 100 points on the Cavaliers, which is why coach Bill Fitch thinks his team has played some of the best defense in the franchise's history during the season's first few months.
Last year, Cleveland also started fast but fell off drastically at the end of the schedule. The Cavaliers, who feel Frazier lends them stability, don't think they will repeat that collapse.
"We're a better team than we were last year," said center Jim Chones, "and we are going to get even better. All of us are improving with experience. I feel real good about this team."