Dr. Robert Kerlan, Laker team physician, said Monday that Magic Johnson has been held out of action in an effort to diminish the chance of a chronic problem with his right knee, which might then require arthroscopic surgery.
Johnson has missed six games since injuring his knee in a game three weeks ago when he bumped into Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns. Kerlan, who thinks Johnson will be able to play tonight against the Dallas Mavericks, said the Lakers clearly did not want to bring him back too soon.
"What we're trying to do is be a little cautious, so when he does come back, there won't be a chronic, recurring problem," Kerlan said. "But if it does develop that way, we have alternate plans."
One of those plans is arthroscopic surgery, Kerlan said.
"That is not planned at this time," he added, however. "We won't know how to treat his knee until we see how he responds when he plays, if it's further injured. If it is decided he needs it, we would go directly to the arthroscope, although not the kind you use for torn cartilage."
In his second pro season, Johnson tore cartilage in his left knee and missed 45 games. That was the only season that the Lakers have not been in the NBA championship series since Johnson joined the team in 1979.
The amount of time a basketball player misses when he has arthroscopic surgery to repair damaged cartilage is is usually four to six weeks, but since Johnson's injury appears to be less serious, there is a chance that he would not miss that much time.
Kerlan said that Johnson's injury involves the kneecap, as well as the lining of the joint. When Johnson bumped knees with Nance, Johnson's kneecap was pinched, which irritated the lining and caused both swelling and a buildup of fluid, commonly known as water on the knee, Kerlan said.
Johnson's knee needed to be drained of fluid only once, Kerlan said, finding that cause for optimism. "He's not producing any more fluid and the level of pain is decreasing," he said.
Kerlan said that Johnson's knee injury itself was fairly common, but that the results of it were not at all routine.
"He probably had the most severe reaction you ever get from bumping knees," Kerlan said. "That's why we want to bring him along slowly. This is a good time of the year for it, to try to keep it from becoming a nagging problem."
Johnson may have tried to come back too soon once already. He missed the first Laker game after the injury but played in the next three: a loss at Detroit, a victory at Chicago and then a crushing defeat at Boston.
In that game with the Celtics, Johnson was clearly playing at less than full speed and seemed limited in his ability to make cuts, especially lateral movements. He has not played in the 12 days since.