Lakers Play Without Ceballos, Still Win : Pro basketball: Back spasms sideline forward; but Jones and Van Exel pick up slack in 106-98 victory over Bucks.
It’s like a countdown these days with the Laker roster.
Twelve players, until Sedale Threatt suffers a stress fracture to his right foot. . . .
Eleven players, until Cedric Ceballos is forced out of Friday night’s game against Milwaukee because of back spasms. . . .
Ten players, until Sam Bowie goes jogging from the huddle into the locker room late in the third quarter. . . .
Nine players. That’s as low as they go, but still enough to hold off the Bucks, 106-98, before 13,227 at the Forum as Eddie Jones scored a game-high 26 points and Nick Van Exel got 19 of his 23 points in the second half and 11 in the decisive fourth quarter.
Actually, it was nine-plus players, since Bowie had 10 rebounds and five blocks, both team highs, in just 17 minutes before his impromptu exit.
If the Lakers needed any more tests to pass, after the tough road stretch early and the recent back-to-back sweep of Seattle and Phoenix, this has been it. Broken, but not beaten.
“They weren’t accepting any excuses,” Coach Del Harris said after the Lakers won for the fourth time in a row and the ninth time in 11 games to improve to 19-9. “Nothing but the win.”
It came with the starting backcourt leading the way, but others lending an important hand. Foremost among the supporting cast was Bowie and Tony Smith, who played a season-high 38 minutes and finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists while also spending part of the night defending No. 1 pick Glenn Robinson.
“That’s what the bench is for,” Smith said. “Guys have got to step up. That’s what the NBA is all about.”
Said Jones, who played part of the night with a bruised hip after a hard fall: “We’re not Showtime, but we want to get back to the thing they had going in L.A. . . . But it’s going to take guys when they’re down and hurt to just say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be out here, I’m going to work as hard as possible for our team to win the game.’
“We’re hurting right now. We don’t have Cedric and we don’t have Sedale, so I knew I couldn’t come out of the game. I was just like, hey, I’m just going to have to toughen it up and play my heart out.”
Ceballos, who is day to day, has a history of minor back problems. But the Lakers had expected him to play, even after he sat out practice Thursday. Come Friday, though, he took part in the afternoon shoot-around “and afterward did not feel fine,” according to Harris, which was enough to keep him out rather than risk a long-term injury.
Without Ceballos and Threatt, the Lakers were lacking their No. 1 offensive weapon and No. 1 reserve. So seldom-used George Lynch was thrust into the starting lineup, in place of Ceballos at small forward, for the first time since Nov. 12.
“Injuries, to a limited extent, shouldn’t throw your team into catastrophe or turmoil,” Harris said. “George is a good player and Cedric, of course, is a good player. If a team comes in with a good offensive system and a good defensive system, the system will carry you for a period of time.
“One of the proving tests for a team in the NBA is how well they play with injuries. It tests the mettle of a team, and it tests their style and their system.”
These are breaks the Bucks should be used to getting, considering that Friday marked the sixth time in the last seven games that the opposition has been without a key ingredient because of injury or suspension: Ceballos with the Lakers, Latrell Sprewell with Golden State the night before, Alonzo Mourning with Charlotte, a few players with Detroit, Derrick Coleman with New Jersey and Anfernee Hardaway with Orlando. Milwaukee capitalized enough to have won two of those five outings before coming to the Forum.
Once here, they built an 11-point lead early in the second quarter, before the Lakers reeled them back in with a 14-1 run. Another solid rally--12-4 over the final 2:47 of the half--produced a 54-46 advantage for L.A. at halftime.
Although there is no way to know for sure because stress fractures develop over time, Sedale Threatt probably played 29 minutes last Friday against Seattle with the injury, if not longer. X-rays taken the next day, before he went two more minutes at Phoenix, showed the damaged right foot, which had been bothering him since the Texas trip in mid-December and went from an inflamed bone to a stress fracture. “I definitely played with it,” Threatt said. “The last three or four games, it definitely hurt. But you feel at the time you can play through the pain.” The reserve guard added that he does not have any problems walking, but that the foot starts to hurt when he tries to run or make quick cuts. . . . Fans attending Sunday’s game against Miami can bring cameras and pose for pictures with Cedric Ceballos and Vlade Divac on the court from 4-5 p.m.