Knicks are at point of no return

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Through 19 games, he was averaging a modest 7.5 points, 5.3 assists in just over 25 minutes per game. Still, New York Knicks point guard Glenn Rivers was one of maybe three players -- along with Patrick Ewing and John Starks -- that the team could ill afford to lose.

So the Knicks find themselves in deep, deep trouble after Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers in which Rivers suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. And with one torn ACL the Knicks suddenly go from a team with an easy ticket to the NBA Finals to a team that joins the rest of the Eastern Conference as mediocre.

New York's problem is that it suddenly has no point guard. The job by default goes to Greg Anthony, who can defend as well as any point guard in the league. But in terms of offense, Anthony was shooting just 30.1 percent from the field and averaging 4.4 points before breaking loose for a season-high 18 points on 5-for-5 shooting last night in a win over Dallas.

Aside from last night, they're not exactly numbers of a championship point guard. So the Knicks are in a shopping mood this holiday season. Even before Rivers went down, New York was talking to the Dallas Mavericks about Derek Harper, who has had a running verbal battle with new coach Quinn Buckner. With the teams meeting last night, surely the trade talks heated up.

The problem is that the Mavericks are asking for too much in return, apparently trying to pry injured Charles Smith from the Knicks. New York, in return, reportedly has offered Anthony, Tim McCormick (is he still in the league?) and a first-round pick for Harper.

In the meantime, the Knicks signed Corey Gaines, who was averaging 19.6 points, and a league-high 11.2 assists with the LaCrosse Catbirds of the Continental Basketball Association. Gaines has played previously with the New Jersey Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets. According to coach Pat Riley, Gaines will be used "to fortify our team as a practice player," with Starks and Hubert Davis backing up Anthony at the point.

Unless Anthony continues his play of last night, or Gaines becomes a surprise contributor, the Knicks can ill afford to stand pat. Age may soon become a factor with the Knicks, who may have blown their best chance of winning an NBA title last season.

So for the Knicks, it's time to play let's make a deal. And, in their desperation, it may mean a big sacrifice.

Dumars tries to carry on

Gone are the days when the Detroit Pistons were the "bad boys" of the NBA, winning back-to-back titles. Players such as Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn helped establish the new trend toward defense, and Isiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson and Joe Dumars made up one of the most effective guard trios in the league.

Look down the roster today -- and see names like Olden Polynice, Terry Mills and Marcus Liberty -- and you can see why the Pistons are 8-14 after being routed in Philadelphia last night.

"Some nights, I wish I had the old guys," said Dumars, who scored but four points last night. "But that's only natural."

And it's only natural that Dumars is struggling a bit. Before last night, the 6-foot-3 guard was averaging 18.6 points, but shooting a career-low 40.1 percent from the field (he's a career 47.6 percent shooter).

Still Dumars, a four-time All-Star, is as dangerous a guard as there is in the league. Last week he demonstrated that against Washington, scoring 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter of a 97-95 win.

"You just go out and play and not be swayed by what's going oaround you and the obstacles in front of you," Dumars said. "I've had a whole lot of good in this league, and this is just a tough period."

And the fans have noticed. The Pistons had sold out all of their games at The Palace -- 245 games -- before falling short on Dec. 14 against the Lakers. The team's recent first-round draft picks -- Lindsey Hunter and Allan Houston -- are an indication that the team is looking toward the future in replacing both Dumars and Thomas.

Still, Dumars and Thomas are still one of the best guard combinations in the game. But it may not be enough to lift the Pistons from the depths of the Central Division.

"I learned a long time ago to accept the good as well as the bad," Dumars said. "There's no time to sulk and pout."

Photographic Grant

Before the season started, everyone wondered what life after Michael Jordan would be like for the Chicago Bulls. It seems that forward Horace Grant is doing just fine with new friends Crystal, Naomi, Alex and Erica.

The four are among the dancers at the Top Shelf, a strip-club in Chicago. Grant has raised some eyebrows with his appearance with the women in the current issue of Cheri magazine.

Never heard of Cheri? Unlike some nude magazines that can be purchased at convenience stores, Cheri is probably a bit on the raunchy side for that. X-rated book stores are the most likely places of purchase. (Probably wondering where I got my copy, right? Actually, the magazine sent me a complimentary copy -- for journalistic purposes.)

Grant happened to be in a gym when the magazine was doing a shoot with the Top Shelf girls. The forward signed a waiver and joined in the shoot in which four photos were published. Grant is fully clothed, but the only thing the model that has her legs wrapped around his neck is wearing is a pair of high-heeled shoes and a necklace.

Needless to say, the Bulls organization is embarrassed. But Grant, in the process of getting a divorce, apparently is taking it ,, all in stride.

"When I'm old," Grant said of the magazine, "I can look back and feel young again."

Words worth repeating

Hornets coach Allan Bristow, after New Jersey Nets coach Chuck Daly complained about the amount of time Charlotte center Alonzo Mourning spends on the free-throw line: "Talk about something dragging out the game, look at them running their half-court offense."

Daly, after Nets GM Willis Reed complained about the lack of playing time of Benoit Benjamin, who makes $3.2 million: "I don't give out minutes. Players earn them."

A colleague, upon hearing police in select counties of Virginia and Maryland would give sober drivers stopped at sobriety checkpoints two tickets to a game of the Bullets, who had a 10-game losing streak going into last night: "I think I'd rather them write me a ticket."

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