Another serious knee injury cost the Lakers another frontcourt starter Monday, Robert Horry going out for an extended period, as expected, but not as long as feared.
The news that Horry will be lost for at least six weeks was practically greeted with a sigh of relief by a team that had braced for far worse than a sprained medial collateral ligament in the left knee. A tear, by contrast, could have meant major surgery, the end of this season and a late start to 1997-98.
“We can deal with six weeks,” Coach Del Harris said. “We wish it was nothing, but we knew better. Anything like that, you’re always fearful that it’s a torn ACL [anterior cruciate ligament], but it wasn’t that. Six weeks, we can deal with that. Seven, eight weeks, we can deal with that too.”
Knowing that they could have their starting center, Shaquille O’Neal, and their starting small forward, Horry, back in time for the playoffs is enough, considering the alternatives. Both could have been goners until training camp, if not beyond. Instead, they figure to return, hoping that what remains of their team will stay among the leaders in the West and get a relatively easy first-round matchup.
Until then, the Lakers’ tenuous hold on the lead in the conference and the Pacific Division becomes still more tenuous. And their starting lineup takes another hit, although it helps that they have practice in this area.
The first experience was afforded by Cedric Ceballos’ torn knee tendon, which prompted the move of 190-pound Eddie Jones from shooting guard to small forward for 11 games. Harris, hoping to avoid as much disruption as possible in the wake of rapid-fire hits, at least has the luxury of going back to that again. In that scenario, Kobe Bryant will start again at guard.
Of course, this theory could last all of two games, Wednesday against Cleveland and Friday against Vancouver. Sunday, New York comes in, with Larry Johnson, at 250 pounds, looking to use Jones as a toothpick. Then, it could be Jones back to guard, Bryant back to the bench and Jerome Kersey into the opening lineup.
Jones sensed this move might be coming, so he went home Sunday evening, hours after Kersey had taken a charge by Seattle’s Terry Cummings and was pushed backward into Horry’s leg. Jones looked at his schedule and remembered how playing the bigger players the last time took so much out of him.
“I think we’ll be all right,” Jones said Monday. “When injuries occur, you have to stand up. I think our guys will stand up.”
At least those who can. The only starting position not affected by the recent run on knee injuries--two by O’Neal and one by Horry--has been point guard, Nick Van Exel’s spot. The same Van Exel who missed Monday’s practice at Loyola Marymount because of what was believed to be stomach flu.
--Center has gone from O’Neal to Elden Campbell.
--Power forward has gone from Campbell to Travis Knight.
--Small forward has gone from Horry to Jones.
--Shooting guard has gone from Jones to Bryant.
“We’re obviously upset when our players get hurt,” Harris said. “But we still have to make the most of the situations we are left with.”
“From that standpoint, it’s still basically the same team that was winning that has to play without Shaq. . . . Now it’s just that the rest of our depth has to come through and do a good job for us.”
Added Bryant, who started twice at guard when Horry was out because of a sprained ankle, “We know that if we could keep this thing going for a little while, until Robert comes back, until Shaquille comes back, we’re going to be all right.
“It’s a big challenge. We have to accept it. We have to deal with it. We’re just going to go out and play as hard as we can and try to win games.”
Help will be coming in some form, maybe as soon as today. Golden State remains interested in acquiring big men, just not the Lakers’ reserve big men and some combination of draft picks, so Chris Mullin almost certainly won’t be coming, as much as the veteran small forward would love to call the Forum home. He could go elsewhere, though.
A more likely scenario is a CBA call-up with a 10-day contract. Guards need not apply. A shooter would probably be preferable, but one possibility is that Trevor Wilson, the hard worker who can play both forward spots, will return for a third stint with the Lakers.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Out of Commission
Laker averages with and without Robert Horry.
Before Horry 97.9
With Horry 105.1
POINTS GIVEN UP
Before Horry 94.6
With Horry 98.5
Before Horry 46.1
With Horry 44.8
Before Horry 42.9
With Horry 45.2