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Bird underrated effects of layoff

Larry Bird's jump shot isn't what it used to be. Clutch shooting is what Bird is most known for, and this comeback season for him has been an experiment in frustration. Bird underwent double heel surgery in November 1988. He missed 76 games. He says his heels are fine. Now if he can convince his legs to cooperate.

"I made a mistake," Boston's Bird said during All-Star Weekend in Miami. "I worked on my upper body when I was making a comeback. I did a lot of running for conditioning purposes. I kind of thought the legs would take care of themselves, but I was wrong. They're not strong enough. A lot of times, they feel dead out there."

Larry is shooting an un-Bird-like 45 percent from the floor.

"I think I really underestimated what taking a year off could do," Bird said. "When I came back, I thought everything would be smooth sailing, that my jump shot would be falling. But it hasn't been. Some other guys can shoot 42, 43 percent, and people will say, "Hey, that's not bad.' But I've got to shoot at least 48 or 50 percent for me to be successful."

Bird said his shot "comes and goes." He will drill five or six in succession. But then he will shoot blanks. In Friday's loss at Portland, he was 7-for-12 in the first half and shot 1-for-10 in the second half.

"I can go to the arena to shoot, stand around out there and knock 'em down, left and right," Bird said. "Then I get in the game, and it's not the same shot. I have missed an unbelievable number of wide-open shots."

Because of the new offense installed by coach Jimmy Rodgers, Bird is getting fewer shots close to the basket. He is getting fouled less and not going to the line as much.

Bird is being asked, more or less, to shoot jump shots coming off picks.

"I never get to post up anymore," he said. "That part of my game is history, and that was the best part of my whole game _ I thought. In the '86 Finals, that's all we did, drop it off to me. I'd wait and wait until somebody came down, and when they did, I'd kick it out and somebody would have a wide-open shot. But you know, things change, and I understand that, so you just have to live with that."

Bird continues to work, to run, to shoot, and expects more positive results. "The legs are feeling better. I'll be shooting better, I know I will."

Pocket change: Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins' payday from All-Star Weekend:

Fee from Reebok for appearing in Slam Dunk Championship _ $100,000.

Prize for winning Slam Dunk Championship _ $20,000.

Prize for playing on winning team (East) in the All-Star Game _ $5,000.

Grand total: $125,000.

Wilkins" annual salary is around $2.7-million, so please, please forgive Sir Slam for at first not wanting to appear in the Slam Dunk Championship.

Wilkins said his mother persuaded him to compete. The truth is, Wilkins held out until the Thursday before the competition. That's when the shoe company convinced him to slam dunk for $100,000.

Wilkins won the event, beating out Kenny Smith in the final round.

Remedial rookies: With Sean Elliott now coming off the bench in San Antonio, Glen Rice of Miami and J.R. Reid of Charlotte are the only starters from last year's top five draft picks.

Top pick Pervis Ellison has been sidelined most of the season with injuries.

No. 2 pick Danny Ferry is playing in Italy.

Elliott and Rice were the third and fourth players taken. Reid went No. 5.

News and notes: In a 113-112 win at Philadelphia, Golden State received its scoring from five people _ Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Terry Teagle and Rod Higgins. The only other players who attempted shots were Winston Garland (0-for-4) and Manute Bol (0-for-3).

At the All-Star break, no regular on the Washington Bullets was shooting 50 percent from the floor. Speaking of the Bullets, center/forward Charles Jones had attempted 115 shots and blocked 115 this season.

Golden State center Uwe Blab, who is shooting 38 percent this season, missed again. The West German playfully threw a sneaker at Lithuanian teammate Sarunas Marciulionis, who was relaxing in his hotel room. The toss was off the mark. The sneaker knocked a framed picture off the wall. Diving to catch the picture, Marciulionis cut his hand and had to be taken to the hospital for four stitches.