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Tomasson: In magical game, Skiles served hot dishes
Published December 30, 2005 at midnight
Paul Westhead has taken over as coach of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, ready to make an impact on the record book. He already has done that in the NBA.
But not exactly in a good way.
Westhead's 1990-91 Denver Nuggets will live in infamy. They gave up an NBA-record 130.8 points a game, once allowing Phoenix to score a league-record 107 points in a half. And they once let a journeyman point guard look like Bob Cousy and Magic Johnson rolled into one.
It was 15 years ago today Scott Skiles of the Orlando Magic took advantage of Westhead's wackiness to hand out a record 30 assists. In a 155-116 road loss, the Nuggets moved wildly up and down court, firing shots, then watched the Magic take the ball the other way.
"They literally just pushed it up, made one pass and shot it,'' said Skiles, now the coach of the Chicago Bulls. "They shot with 18 (seconds) on the shot clock and they missed that night. So there were a lot of long rebounds, a lot of fast breaks.''
And a lot of assists.
With 6 minutes, 57 seconds to play on Dec. 30, 1990, at Orlando Arena, Skiles fed Jerry Reynolds for a dunk for his 29th assist. That tied the NBA record that was set by Kevin Porter of the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 24, 1978.
The public-address announcer let it be known what Skiles had accomplished. But apparently Reynolds, who scored a game-most 27 points and was the beneficiary of many of Skiles' assists, wasn't listening.
As the game wound down, Skiles often fed Reynolds for open jumpers, only to watch Reynolds drive to the hoop, nullifying the chance of an assist. Then, in the waning seconds, Reynolds held the ball, preparing to run out the clock.
"Reynolds had the ball and he wasn't going to shoot, and the crowd yelled, 'Shoot. Shoot. Shoot,' " said Pat Williams, then Orlando's president and general manager and now the team's senior vice president.
Reynolds finally figured it out. He drilled a 22-footer with 19.6 seconds to play and the record belonged to Skiles.
Skiles remains an unlikely holder of a rather significant NBA record. He played for five teams in 10 seasons, averaging 6.5 assists and never appearing in an All-Star Game.
"In the history of basketball, if you wondered who would do that, I don't think he would have gotten many votes,'' Williams said. "But everything came together that evening. It was a magical evening down in the Magic land. . . . It was basketball the old-fashioned way. Rip it and run.''
The Magic took a 23-point halftime lead and spent the rest of the game extending it. Early in the fourth quarter, Skiles told Magic coach Matt Guokas he wanted to take a seat for the night.
Guokas would have none of it. He wanted the Magic, a second-year franchise on its way to finishing 31-51, to get into the record book.
"I remember they were announcing his totals as the game was going on,'' said Joe Wolf, the starting center that night on a Nuggets team that finished 20-62. "It was one of those nights where everything was clicking for him.''
Skiles had 14 assists in the first half and 16 in the second while also scoring 22 points in 44 minutes. Orlando had eight players score in double figures, all forgettable with the exception of Skiles, Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson.
"It sticks with me,'' Skiles said. "My teammates have to take most of the credit. If they're not making shots, I could be making Bob Cousy passes all over the place and it wouldn't be anything.''
Because the pace of NBA games has slowed so much, Williams calls it is a record that might never be broken. He went so far as to compare it with Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points on March 2, 1962.
Skiles, though, disagrees.
"Maybe if Westhead comes back into the league, maybe somebody could do it,'' he said.