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The NBA / Sam McManis : Since Lakers Got Away, There Has Been Nothing but Trouble in Big D

Adversity seems to have found a home in Dallas, where one misfortune after another has befallen the once-promising Mavericks in a season that has been as depressing for them as a country-western song.

One victory away from eliminating the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals last season, the Mavericks began the week battling the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers for either the final conference playoff spot or a ticket to the draft lottery.

Trouble visited the Mavericks early in the season when Roy Tarpley, the team’s sixth man and leading rebounder, checked into a drug rehabilitation clinic in Van Nuys for the second time in his brief career.

That was followed by the saga of brooding Mark Aguirre, who did not want to play for the Mavericks about as much as they did not want him to play for them. Aguirre was then traded for Adrian Dantley, who caused more upheaval with his celebrated holdout. Injuries also sidelined, for significant stretches, starters Rolando Blackman and Sam Perkins and reserve center Bill Wennington.

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Dallas’ latest, and perhaps the severest, blow fell Friday night in Houston when center James Donaldson ruptured a tendon in his right knee and will be lost for the rest of the season.

“We’re snake-bit,” Maverick General Manager Norm Sonju said. “It’s just one thing after another. But you can’t control something like this. James was playing unbelievable, but we’ve got to go on without him.”

The injury could hardly have happened at a worse time for the Mavericks, who were finally starting to come together. They had won two consecutive games, and Donaldson was playing strongly alongside new additions Dantley and Herb Williams.

Before Friday night’s injury, which happened in the first quarter of a loss at Houston, Donaldson had scored at least 10 points and had at least 10 rebounds in 10 consecutive games. In the six games Donaldson played since Aguirre’s departure, he averaged 17.3 points a game, 18.3 rebounds, 2.83 blocked shots and shot 66%.

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Then came the fall on Friday night. It happened four minutes into the game. Donaldson rebounded Sam Perkins’ missed shot but was stripped of the ball by the Rockets’ Akeem Olajuwon while attempting a dunk.

As Donaldson landed, he said, he was kicked in the right knee. He fell to the floor awkwardly and could not put any pressure on his right leg. X-rays later confirmed a rupture of the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the tip of the thighbone.

Donaldson underwent knee surgery Monday and doctors said he will wear a brace a minimum of two months before he can begin intensive rehabilitation. A similar injury sidelined Clipper guard Norm Nixon for an entire season, and former Dodger outfielder Pedro Guerrero for nine months.

Before missing six games in late February with a groin pull, Donaldson had not missed a game to injury since his rookie season in 1980-81, a span of 574 games.

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Replacing Donaldson at center is the 6-foot-11 Williams, who is better suited to be a power forward.

Williams has played well since coming to the Mavericks from Indiana for Detlef Schrempf, ending last week averaging 8.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in a reserve role. But when Williams played center in Donaldson’s absence on a recent Eastern trip, the Mavericks went 1-3, the lone victory coming in the final second against the expansion Miami Heat.

So far, the Mavericks’ void in the middle has been exploited by opponents. Friday night, Olajuwon scored 17 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. And Saturday night, San Antonio’s 6-10 Frank Brickowski outscored Williams, 18-1.

Coach John MacLeod’s other option is to keep Williams at power forward and start Wennington, who has a career scoring average of 2.8. Wennington returned over the weekend after missing 11 games with a torn ligament in his right ankle.

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“Lord willing, we might be all right,” Sonju said. “We have a bona fide center in Herb, and Bill’s healthy again. If we can get Roy back, I think we’ll be competitive.”

Dallas announced Monday that Tarpley will return to the club sometime this week, but will remain on the NBA’s suspended list for an indefinite period and will not play or practice.

The top eight teams in the Western Conference qualify, and the Mavericks ranked eighth, percentage points behind Denver. They have a difficult march in March, playing 13 of 17 games on the road. Included in those road games are stops at Detroit, Cleveland, New York and Friday night against the Lakers in the Forum.

“This has been frustrating for everybody, because it looked like we were finally going to make up some ground,” Maverick guard Derek Harper said. “I don’t know how you replace a guy like James. I guess you just scrap and put Band-Aids on all the sores.”

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That is something the Mavericks have done, with only limited success, all season.

The truth is out. Those Nike advertisements, in which Chicago’s Michael Jordan and Philadelphia’s Charles Barkley dazzle with 360-degree reverse dunks, actually are staged.

Barkley ‘fessed up last week while filming a charity advertisement with Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey. Barkley suggested to the commercial’s director that Casey, 57, perform a windmill dunk.

“He can do it,” Barkley said. “When I do my Nike commercials, I stand on a chair. Michael Jordan does the same thing. If you did all the dunks they want you to do, you’d break your hands.”

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Apparently, paying $15,000 in fines this season alone has not been a sufficient deterrent for Detroit Pistons center Rick Mahorn to cease his rough play.

Mahorn’s most recent transgression was an elbow to Cleveland guard Mark Price’s head in open court in a game Feb. 28. Price missed two games and part of a third because of a concussion. Mahorn was fined $5,000 fine but was not suspended.

Rather than accept the punishment, Mahorn ripped Rod Thorn, the NBA vice president who imposes such penalties.

"(Thorn) is going to be biased and very narrow-minded in situations dealing with the Pistons,” Mahorn said. “He’s trying to dictate how we play basketball. If he doesn’t like it, it’s his problem.”

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Wayne Embry, the Cavaliers’ president, criticized the league for not taking stronger action. “Someone that much bigger, to go out of his way to knock down (Price) should be suspended,” Embry said. Another lenient punishment was meted out by the league early last week, after Houston center Akeem Olajuwon punched Seattle’s Michael Cage in the face. Olajuwon was not even ejected from the game and later was fined $5,000.

Cage, who needed four stitches to close the wound on his bottom lip, told the Seattle Times that stronger measures need to be taken on fighting.

“It has to stop somewhere,” Cage said. “The league’s in an all-time high for popularity. . . . The one thing that can undermine it is violence. If this isn’t monitored, it could become cancerous.”

The league’s failure to suspend Olajuwon was seen by some, including Cage, as preferential treatment to one of the game’s best players.

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“I don’t care whether the guy’s a superstar or not,” Cage said. “If you punch someone, you’ve got to go.”

No North Carolina newspaper covered James Worthy’s celebrated homecoming to North Carolina last Friday night more thoroughly as his hometown paper, the Gaston Gazette of Gastonia, N.C.

The Gazette ran four full-length features on Worthy in one edition. The highlight was Worthy discussing the joys of returning to North Carolina from Los Angeles at the end of basketball season.

“I like driving on highway 49, taking the back routes, smelling the cow manure and looking at the farms,” Worthy was quoted as saying. “I’ve done that every summer I’ve been in the league. . . . When my career is over, I’m not going to live in L.A., that’s for sure. It’s too fast. It’s too dangerous. (North Carolina) is much more sane. That’s where our roots are.”

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Worthy also revealed that, growing up in Gastonia, his ambition was to drive a Trailways bus.

NBA Notes

Forward Buck Williams of the New Jersey Nets, perpetually rumored to be traded, has not only remained with the beleaguered franchise for eight seasons but has not complained. “I love pain,” Williams said. “And I do have a sense of loyalty to the New Jersey Nets. But there will come a time soon when I will sit down with them and have to talk about my future.” Williams apparently is mildly upset by the Nets failed attempt to trade him before the deadline Feb. 15, and he might seek an off-season trade. But even Williams, one of the NBA’s top rebounders, says it is more likely he will remain a Net.

Guard Mark Jackson of the New York Knicks had surgery a week ago to remove torn cartilage from his knee but is said to be on schedule to return just before the playoffs. Jackson, last season’s rookie of the year, weighed the option of surgery and rehabilitation or rest in hopes that the injury would heal naturally. He said choosing an operation was difficult. . . . “I just woke up Monday morning, and I saw a T-shirt that said, ‘Just Do It.’ So I did,” Jackson said. “I don’t like the feeling of being helpless. That was a tough decision for a 23-year-old. I’m young and I didn’t know a great deal about (the injury). It’s just a lot of weight on a 23-year-old who feels he’s Iron Man, invincible.”

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David Falk, agent to (most of) the NBA stars, has added another client to a stable that includes Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Adrian Dantley and James Worthy. It is Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins, who has changed agents several times during his seven-year career. “We’re excited,” Falk said. “And I hope Dominique is ready to make a commitment to get his personal affairs in order.”

Add Falk: The agent has spent considerable time recently negotiating a new shoe contract between Jordan and Nike. And, apparently, Nike got Jordan at a relative bargain. According to Sports inc. magazine, Jordan’s contract with Nike was renewed for $12.5 million. As lucrative as that figure seems, it reportedly is $6.5 million less and two years shorter than Nike’s original offer last August. The magazine reported that Falk originally sought a $45-million contract for Jordan. No need to feel sorry for Jordan, though. He still will earn $2.5 million a year, strictly for lending his name to the company. Also, he will receive 10 cents for every pair of Air Jordan shoes sold after sales exceed $2.5 million. . . . Sacramento Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill, whose team is 17-45, on negotiations on a new contract with Coach Jerry Reynolds: “It would be a lot easier to extend his contract if he won a few ballgames.”


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