Vlade Divac recorded his third 20-20 of the season Friday night--25 points and 20 rebounds--but the real statement as the Lakers beat the Washington Bullets at the Forum, 113-103, came from Anthony Peeler.
The background awaits, or, at the very least, a lesser role. The process begins today when Eddie Jones practices at 100% for the first time since suffering a sprained right shoulder Feb. 19, then gains momentum as Jones, barring an unforeseen development, is activated in time for Sunday's game against Houston.
It won't happen right away, but eventually Jones will become the starting shooting guard again. Peeler knows that. The minutes will shrink, the shots too.
But there is this reminder from Peeler: 19 points on eight-of-12 shooting and six steals, which tied career high, against the Bullets. That pushed his scoring average while starting the last 18 games to 18.3, and he has shot 52.1% the last 11 outings.
"Anthony Peeler won't go back to a 10-12 minute player," Coach Del Harris said. "He'll still be a major-minute player, as long as he stays anywhere near where he's played the last 20 games."
That's enough for Peeler, who earlier in the season was spending more time on the bench than Lance Ito. Those 10 or 12 minutes would have seemed like a windfall.
But now, given an opportunity because of Jones' injury, he has proven to be a major contributor.
"It's meant a lot to me personally," he said after the Lakers won their third in a row. "I'd been down, but I still came in and worked hard. Then I would leave after games without getting a chance to do anything. So I wasn't going to let this chance blow past me. I'm just happy I had the chance to play this well."
Harris stuck to his plan and made Elden Campbell the starting power forward again after he had come off the bench the previous six games, a move endorsed by Sam Bowie, who returned to his usual role as a reserve. But Harris held off on inserting Cedric Ceballos into the opening lineup at small forward, though that will happen eventually.
"Just the way we're doing it," Harris said before Ceballos played his second game after missing the 22 before with a torn thumb ligament. "You've got to choose fast or slow. We're doing it slow. It's the nature of a team game--it's going to take him a little while to get used to the guys again and a little while for the guys to get used to him.
"We'll know when it's time. It'll be obvious. Maybe Sunday, maybe Tuesday. But when a person has been out that long, you've got to let it be obvious."
Just like Wednesday, though, Ceballos entered midway through the first quarter. The difference was that he was relieving Lloyd Daniels and not Kurt Rambis, whose try at keeping Ceballos' spot warm lasted all of five minutes against the much quicker Clifford Robinson two nights earlier.
The Bullets also had enough size to concern Harris--7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan, 6-10 Chris Webber and 6-10 Don MacLean--but that didn't slow Divac. Campbell also managed 20 points, though only five rebounds in 39 minutes.
Webber had a triple-double for the Bullets, finishing with 31 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
He isn't ready to challenge Kurt Rambis yet, but it's obvious Anthony (Pig) Miller is emerging as a fan favorite at the Forum. "I feel good about it," said Miller, the rookie who has come on in the last couple weeks to make nice contributions as a reserve power forward. "I come in and help a little and the fans applaud. I appreciate that. Really, you can't go far without the fans. I like their support." . . . The plastic splint Cedric Ceballos will wear for at least another few games to protect his surgically repaired right thumb has been set to put the finger in the shooting position. That does not, however, present any problems for other duties such as dribbling and rebounding. "I can squeeze the ball," Ceballos said. "I can palm the ball. I can make a fist with the brace on." . . . Juwan Howard, the Bullets' starting small forward, missed his third game in a row because of a sprained ankle. Don MacLean got the start.