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FISTS OF FURY

Fact is, they aren't very good--with or without Dan Issel and LaPhonso Ellis.
Only time will tell if Emperor Bickerstaff's new kick-ass policy will turn the team around anytime soon, but Rodney Rogers and Brian Williams are two guys likely to feel the early impact of Bernie's wingtip. Upon learning Bickerstaff had replaced interim coach Gene Littles (3-13 since the Horse galloped off), Williams started talking about the need for "cohesion" rather than "Stalinistic purges where you operate under a level of fear." Rogers figured out he might have to play a little defense this year.

As for the Big Guy with the nine names, he remains the club's leader in both "D" and self-absorption. But it seems likely Mutombo will be talking less in coming weeks about his rightful place on the All-Star roster and his individual stats than about getting the Nuggs back to the playoffs: He's way too smart not to hear Bernie's tune playing in his ear.

If Bickerstaff's sudden move to the bench--he's now the club's general manager, president and head coach--had the air of a Central American coup about it, the timing couldn't have been better. Those weren't the Houston Rockets or the Phoenix Suns rolling into Big Mac last Tuesday night; those were the NBA's Designated Bad Jokes, the Los Angeles Clippers, winners of just nine games all season. Right on cue, the revved-up Nuggets handed Bickerstaff a 118-80 blowout win in his debut.

The happiest man in the house, and the most relieved, had to be Littles, who returns to his top-assistant post a contented man.

Bickerstaff's dictatorship--er, stint as head coach--has the look of endurance about it. He is a resolute, iron-jawed type, and most Nuggets observers think it will take six armed guards and a snowplow to get him off the sideline.

Still, Bickerstaff's the one who must ultimately see to it that the brown thing starts going through the round thing. If he doesn't do it, he could find himself looking for three new jobs in a year or so.

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