By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- It was another loss and another sparse crowd, but Darryl Dawkins saw promise in the Tampa Bay Thunderdawgs' 128-121 loss to the Los Angeles Stars before about 200 fans on Saturday night.
"Considering that's the best team in the league, for us to play them that close means we are improving," Dawkins said. "But I'm tired of going into the locker room without a win."
The Stars, 4-1 and averaging an ABA-high 130 points, led most of the way, but Tampa Bay (1-5) trimmed a double-digit lead to three in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles led 123-118 with 54 seconds left when a league innovation called "3-D" gave the Dawgs a chance to pull within one. All backcourt turnovers give the opposing team a chance to earn an extra point by scoring, and the Stars' inbounds pass went into the Dawgs' bench. But Kwan Johnson's ensuing three-point attempt (essentially a four-pointer) missed.
"Our game plan was to stay with our speed game, even if the lead is evaporating and the game's winding down," Stars coach Paul Westhead said.
Los Angeles had four players score more than 20 points, led by Mark Sanford, who scored all of his 26 in the first three quarters. Former UCLA stars Toby Bailey and Ed O'Bannon each had 21 as did Curtis Staples.
Tampa Bay, which set a team high for points, had six players in double figures, led by Ace Custis' 23. Johnson, Lonnie Harrell and Kerry Thompson added 18.
The Dawgs did not have former NBA player Lloyd Daniels, who had not signed, but Dawkins said he could have Daniels for today's 3 p.m. game against the Stars. He said his team's biggest problem Saturday was the officiating.
"The refereeing just s----. The refereeing absolutely s----. It's terrible," he said. "They call it one way one night, another way another night."
Asked where the league was finding its officials, Dawkins didn't hesitate: "From Romper Room, I think," he said.