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Suns, visiting Bullets, find road bumpy on 13-day trip

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Phoenix faces the Washington Bullets at the USAir Arena tonight, it will be the fifth game of a seven-game, 13-day road trip for the Suns -- the third longest in team history. Judging by the actions of coach Paul Westphal on Friday in Boston, one might have wondered whether they already had been on the road one game too many.

Charles Barkley, Danny Manning and Dan Majerle were all in uniform -- and all three were on the bench at the start of the game. In a move intended to shake up the team, Westphal started Danny Schayes, Trevor Ruffin, Elliot Perry, Joe Kleine and A. C. Green.

If Westphal thinks the Suns are struggling, there are a lot of NBA coaches who would love to have his problem. Although Phoenix has lost two of its past three games, the Suns' 11-5 record is third best in the league.

Even though injuries have hit two of their top players, the Suns have the league's second-most prolific offense, averaging 109.9 points. When Kevin Johnson went on the injured list before the Nov. 23 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Perry (10.6 points, 6.0 assists per game) filled in nicely. And even though Barkley missed the first 10 games of the season with a strained abdominal muscle, newcomers Manning (18.6 ppg) and Wayman Tisdale (10.0 ppg) helped carry the team.

Barkley said the injury, as well as the back injury from last season, is the result of his style in his early years.

"My body is deteriorating," Barkley said. "There's no medical term for what I've got. I've been playing 10 years and if you play like a kamikaze pilot, it's gonna hurt."

The back pain had him talking of retiring last season, but Barkley's healthy enough to return to talk of winning his first championship.

"I think, realistically, this is going to be the year for us," Barkley said. "If we don't, the younger teams are going to pass us by.

"The reason I was talking about retiring those years was I thought we'd win a championship," said Barkley, who in his first season with Phoenix lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Finals two years ago. "That's all I'm playing for anymore. Now, obviously, there's a rush with my body situation."

Time to sulk for Gill

Word out of Seattle is that Kendall Gill is unhappy with his role with the SuperSonics, but is that surprising?

Gill, who was unhappy playing in the shadows of Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson in Charlotte, is now unhappy with his playing time. His displeasure surfaced last season, and in the off-season coach George Karl tried to deal him to the Sacramento Kings along with the 11th pick for Mitch Richmond -- a deal the Kings turned down. This season Gill is averaging 30.4 minutes per game, behind Detlef Schrempf (34.3), Gary Payton (33.5) and Shawn Kemp (32.5) -- which falls short of the equal-time promise that his agent, Arn Tellum, said Gill received.

"I was disappointed," Gill said of the off-season trade talks. "I thought I was an important part of the team. . . . My request to play more is legitimate. I think anybody would want to play more."

Karl is not about to start simply handing out minutes."Are you kidding me?" was Karl's response. "I wouldn't promise minutes to Michael Jordan, but he'd earn them.

"If he works hard, he'll play," Karl added. "If he comes with an attitude, he'll get an attitude."

Around the league

Hornets guard David Wingate, a former Dunbar star, served a two-game suspension last week for breaking team policy. Wingate was to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Nov. 23 but showed up at the hospital with a full stomach -- a medical no-no. Surgery was rescheduled for last week, but Wingate backed out and has opted to rehab his knee. . . . Houston Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell was fined $5,000 yesterday after failing to leave the court and verbally abusing officials after being ejected in a win over Golden State on Thursday. . . . The Los Angeles Clippers (0-15 going into last night) are upset by the criticism directed toward them. "I wish they could judge us on how close we're getting, instead of the losses," second-year forward Harold Ellis said.

Quotes of the week

From Miami Heat center John Salley, of his team's going 4-6 over the past 10 games:

"I am planning to stay positive, even though some negativity is creeping into this team like gangrene in a wound."

And from Bulls center Will Perdue, who was bleeding after his nose was broken by Clippers forward Tony Massenburg -- a play on which Perdue was whistled for a personal:

"Are you sure I fouled that guy?"

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