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Crippled Suns Have a Chance Against Lakers, Adams Says, but It Isn’t a Very Good One

Times Staff Writer

The joke going around Phoenix this week is that the Suns just had their team picture taken. It was an X-ray.

The joke going around the Forum the next few days promises to be the Suns’ playoff series with the Lakers. Phoenix opens a best-of-five series with the Lakers tonight in the Forum as a 200-1 longshot to win the NBA title.

Alvan Adams, the Suns’ veteran forward, wants to know the probability of something else.

“What are the odds we’ll be able to start five guys?” Adams asked.

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Well, a lot better than the Suns’ chances against the Lakers, even as they are seen by Adams.

“We have a chance,” he said. “It’s just not a very good one.”

It looks like the playoffs are going to be nothing more than a continuation of what happened in the regular season to the Suns, who had more players miss more games than any other team in league history, except for this season’s unbelievably unlucky New York Knicks.

“But the Knicks are in another hemisphere,” Adams said.

They’re also out of the playoffs, which is something the Suns couldn’t avoid doing even though they tried mightily.

Phoenix lost 12 of its last 15 games to finish with 46 defeats, but they couldn’t out-lose Seattle. As a reward, the Suns get to play the Lakers, who are completely healthy, which the Suns are not.

The Suns’ three top scorers are all either too hurt to play or just well enough to try. Guard Walter Davis (foot surgery) is definitely out of the series.

Forward Larry Nance (groin pull) is very likely out and center James Edwards (back sprain) is probably out of the first playoff game.

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Forward Maurice Lucas (right knee tendinitis) and forward Charles Jones (twisted right ankle) are expected to be able to play in some form or another.

“It was really discouraging to see a different player or two go down every game toward the end,” Adams said.

Just one Suns player did not miss a game this season. That was Adams, who in his 10-year career has never looked healthy even when he was. Dark circles ring his eyes, which seem to be sunk too deeply into his face.

Adams appears to be on the verge of keeling over at any time, but he was the only Suns player to appear in all 82 games. Coach John MacLeod, who moved Adams from center to forward this season, said Adams had his best year since he was a rookie in 1976. Adams isn’t sure.

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“I can’t remember that far back,” he said.

Besides averaging 14.7 points, which was fourth best on the team, Adams was also third on the club in rebounds and assists.

Adams leads the Suns in one category--gallows humor, something the entire team has been able to practice a lot this season.

Asked why he thought the Suns have had such bad luck with injuries, Adams said it all dated back to last summer when a group of Suns toured Italy. Adams didn’t go.

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“It’s obvious to me that they must have said something to annoy the Pope,” he said.

And so it goes for the Suns, who were two players short at practice Wednesday. They went four-on-four. In defensive drills, one of the Lakers was a chair.

After practice, the Suns took off for a team function at Turf Paradise, a horse racing track. Maybe they figured their luck couldn’t get any worse.

Coach John MacLeod is trying to come up with something that might work against the Lakers. Although Lucas won’t start, he probably will play a lot against Kurt Rambis.

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MacLeod also wonders whether he should slow the tempo down to a brisk crawl.

“We may try to do that,” MacLeod said. “My feeling is if you come down the floor and try to quick-shoot the ball against that team, you’re just putting gasoline on a raging forest fire.”

This series may get out of hand in a hurry, Adams realizes, but that could happen no matter who the Lakers were playing in the first round.

“The way they’re going, they could beat anyone, let alone the injury-riddled Phoenix Suns,” Adams said.

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“But we can’t lose by 30 points. That would be embarrassing,” he said. “We can lose and we can be embarrassed. We’re not looking to lose, but they’re so much better than we are right now. We don’t want to get down by 20 after one quarter and have their guys on the bench laughing at us. That would really be embarrassing.”

The Suns delayed their arrival as late as they could. They fly in today. Carol MacLeod, the coach’s wife, has decided not to come.

“I’m going to stay home and pray,” she said.

This might not seem significant in this series of Suns and Lakers, of underdogs and overdogs, but it is. We can no longer say the Suns don’t have a prayer.

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Laker Notes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who turned 38 Tuesday, needs 323 points to pass Jerry West as the leading scorer in playoff history. West, the Laker general manager, scored 4,457 playoff points in his 13-year career. . . . Magic Johnson needs 193 assists to pass West as the all-time playoff leader. . . . The third and fourth games of the series in Phoenix begin at 6:30 p.m. L.A. time. . . . Last season, the team that won the opening game went on to win every first-round series. . . . Only once, in 1956, did a team come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five series: Fort Wayne over St. Louis in the Western Division finals. . . . If every series goes the maximum number of games, this season’s NBA champion would play 26 games. The Celtics needed 23 games last season. . . . This will be the fifth playoff meeting between the Suns and Lakers, who have won the previous four. Last year, the Lakers defeated the Suns, 4-2, in the Western Conference finals. In 1980 and 1982, the Lakers played the Suns in the first round and went on to win the NBA title.

A NOT-SO-HEALTHY OUTLOOK

PHOENIX PLAYERS MISSED A TOTAL OF 266 GAMES DUE TO INJURIES OR ILLNESSES DURING A 36-46 REGULAR SEASON. BELOW ARE THE NUMBER OF GAMES EACH PHOENIX PLAYER MISSED AND THE REASON(S) THAT HE WASN’T ABLE TO PLAY.

Games Player Reason Missed 78 Rick Robey Heel surgery 59 Walter Davis Torn ligaments left knee, bone spurs right ankle 58 Mike Sanders Torn cartilage left knee 21 Larry Nance Strained groin muscle, sprained left ankle 17 Kyle Macy Strained left big toe, strained right big toe, bruised right hip, flu 13 Maurice Lucas Tonsillitis, flu, tendinitis right knee 12 James Edwards Bruised right knee 5 Alvin Scott Bruised left shoulder 2 Jay Humphries Bruised right hip 1 Charles Jones Sprained left ankle

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NOTE--Walter Davis (foot surgery) will miss the series with the Lakers; Larry Nance (groin pull) is expected to miss the series; James Edwards (back sprain) is expected to miss Game 1 of the series.


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