Fat Lever, as always, was very matter-of-fact, this time about his former employers, the Denver Nuggets. (You may not recognize them, because you frequently see only the backs of their jerseys these days.)

"They knew they had to make changes, and they wanted to make changes from the standpoint of ticket sales," the two-time all-star said. "The way they were going to sell tickets was to give a new look coming in, create a situation where people would be excited about the people that were there playing. And with the veteran players, they wanted to go with a youth movement too."

Denver cleaned house, losing a general manager (the last of five last year), firing a coach, trading Lever and Alex English to Dallas and Danny Schayes to Milwaukee, letting Joe Barry Carroll go, and installing the Loyola Marymount system of its new coach, Paul Westhead. The results have been amazing, as Denver (0-6) has given up an average of 145 points a game.

It only looks like the rest of the league is laughing. Actually, some people think Westhead had no choice but to play this way, given his personnel.

Said one NBA assistant: "If he plays straight up, he'll get drilled."

"It's going to come down to how healthy they are," Lever said. "Orlando {Woolridge} is their go-to guy. He's been in the league a while and that's going to take a toll on him. And it's going to take a toll on Walter {Davis}. But it's exciting to watch and it's going to sell tickets for them. That's what the ownership wants. They don't mind losing now."Bol on Capitol Hill

On Thursday, Manute Bol will walk into Room 201 of the Cannon Office Building on Capitol Hill and tell about the oppression of the people in his native Sudan, as part of the second Mickey Leland Memorial Hunger Banquet.

"I want America to know about what's happening," Bol said.

The banquet also will address the situation of people in Cambodia. In the Sudan, thousands of Bol's Dinka tribe have died or are dying as a result of the bloody suppression of the Dinkas by the ruling Moslem government. Bol has done all that he can on his $1.2 million salary. His agent, Frank Catapano, confirms numbers in the Philadelphia Inquirer that Bol has already built two homes and given nearly $300,000 to try to feed and shelter the thousands of homeless in the country.

"Last summer, I had to wire him $70,000," Catapano said. "It's a sad story. You sit there and say, 'Geez, it's terrible.' What can you do? Who do you say no to? Which starving person?"

On the floor, Bol has done exactly what the 76ers thought he would do, with 11 blocks in five games. And when Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn double-team him in the locker room, he comes right back at them. He calls them the "Fat Guys."

"We wanted to basically bring out a fire in him," Mahorn said. "We felt once he came to camp he knew he was coming to a lot of guys that are going to try to make him play harder than he has. Charlie and I really talk in practice. We talk a lot of mess. You don't want to be intimidated. Every time we play with him and he hangs with us, he's feeding off of us and energy's coming out of two people, two very emotional people." Tarpley Set for Surgery

Dallas forward Roy Tarpley will have surgery today following a magnetic resonance imaging test that revealed a cartilage tear in his right knee.

Tarpley is expected to miss four to six weeks. The team initially had said he would be out three weeks.

Tarpley's right kneecap slipped out of place when he landed after making a shot on a fast break in a victory over Orlando Friday night.

In five games, Tarpley averaged 20.4 points and 11 rebounds, sixth-best in the NBA.

Team physician J. Pat Evans will perform the arthroscopy immediately after completing an arthroscopy on Lever's right knee, troubled by inflammation since training camp. . . .

Derek Smith has heard from six teams since the 76ers let him go, including two "firm offers," according to his agent, Ron Grinker. Smith is confident that the surgery that ended his contract talks with Philadelphia has taken care of the soreness in his knee.

"Derek has a new hero now and it's Bernard King," Grinker said. "He never understood Bernard. All of a sudden, he understands how smart Bernard was, because he was fully recovered before he walked back on the court. Derek felt all the others -- {himself}, Danny Manning, Larry Krystkowiak -- went back on the court too soon." . . .

It took only a season plus five games for the Nets to take Bill Fitch's career regular season mark under .500. He was safe at 762-714 before he took over last year; since then, he's 19-69 in the regular season, for a 781-783 clip. . . .

Jack Sikma is starting again for Milwaukee, even though both the soon-to-be 35-year-old and the Bucks wanted his minutes reduced dramatically this season.

"It's important to keep me around 24, 26 minutes," he said. "I don't think I'm as effective over the long haul." . . . Barkley wasn't happy with the way Philadelphia was playing before Johnny Dawkins got hurt Thursday. "It's just ridiculous," he said. "Manute's doing a good job. The starters have to show up. That bench doesn't do us any good if we don't show up. We're playing like the other 99 percent of the world. You have to be greedy." . . .

Miami's Sherman Douglas looks down the bench now and sees Willie Burton, Alec Kessler -- players with potential. Said Douglas: "That's something that in the past, we were kind of hurting. You'd look deep down our bench, and we'd have talent there, but we wouldn't have anybody to step in and produce for us. If we had the lead, it would dwindle down. Now if we have the lead, maybe we can have somebody to build a lead on. That's something new."