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Ewing's injury changes present, future Knicks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After having surgery on his shattered right wrist Monday, New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing reportedly told teammate John Starks that he would be back in time for the playoffs. Of course, we all know about Ewing and his predictions.

Unfortunately for Ewing, the injury that occurred against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 20 could be career-threatening because the ligaments in his wrist were shredded. And that would be the end of the Knicks as we know them -- a highly competitive but inconsistent group that seemingly everyone loved to hate.

Let's face it, the most anticipated matchup in the NBA last year was the Knicks-Chicago Bulls playoff series that never happened. And it was the presence of Ewing, though playing on knees that have been shot for several seasons, that would have given New York a chance.

It just won't be the same with Chris Dudley or Herb Williams patrolling the middle.

"Yes, with Patrick Ewing out, the Knicks are going to have to restructure things," said Bulls guard Michael Jordan. "And Miami moves up there [as Chicago's chief rival in the Eastern Conference]."

What can the Knicks do?

Not much, considering there are no centers available. The only one of impact that might be traded by the February deadline is the Heat's Isaac Austin. Miami is limited in what it can pay him when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, so the team is likely to trade him because he has value.

But Heat coach Pat Riley would not deal Austin to an Atlantic Division team, especially the Knicks, his former employers. So the Knicks probably will have to stand pat. Larry Johnson likely will operate more from the power forward spot than small forward, and he will have to establish himself as an inside threat.

"Larry used to do it all the time to us when he was in Charlotte, and now we're going to see him do it here," Starks said. "Now he knows he's the focal point of our offense. We're going to see the player he truly is."

And the Knicks are hoping for development from Allan Houston, a disappointment since signing before last season, and coach Jeff Van Gundy already has inserted some post-up plays for the shooting guard.

Despite the injury to their best player, a loss that could cost New York a trip to the playoffs, the Knicks remain confident.

"We're still going to win the championship. This will make it that much sweeter," said point guard Chris Childs -- before last night's loss to the lowly Toronto Raptors that dropped the Knicks to 16-12, eighth in the East.

Davis toughens Wizards

As Terry Davis sat at home in Virginia, sifting through retirement plans and sharpening his golf game, the last thing he thought he'd be doing today is playing in the NBA. Especially after getting cut by the lowly Dallas Mavericks before last season, a setback that would deflate any player.

But after a year away from the game, Davis is not only back in the NBA, he's also the starting center for the Wizards. And his toughness has helped Washington rebound from a slow start to reach the .500 level.

"I had pretty much given up on my career," Davis said. "I was looking at retirement plans, trying to get the kids off to school, the whole 9 yards. I was playing mostly golf."

The Wizards needed toughness. And that's exactly what the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Davis provides -- a willingness to bang with and frustrate NBA tough guys such as Karl Malone and Alonzo Mourning.

"Terry Davis is going to be there; he's going to fight tooth and nail with whoever," said Wizards point guard Rod Strickland. "He reminds me of [the Knicks'] Charles Oakley, an enforcer who doesn't take any stuff. And he does all the dirty work."

Said Davis: "They brought me here to play physical and not back down. They wanted an enforcer on this team, and I enjoy the role."

There are times when Davis, undrafted out of Virginia Union in 1989, feels lucky to even be alive. In May 1993, after his fourth year in the NBA when he averaged 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds for Dallas, Davis was seriously injured in a car accident, suffering a shattered left elbow after his vehicle hit a tree.

He returned the following season, but played in just 15 games. He never seemed to fully recover from the injury until this year.

"It was a very scary accident and it was the first time that death flashed before me," Davis said. "I could easily be a vegetable today. I could easily be dead. It was the turning point of my life. I became a lot closer to God, and I'm just happy to be here."

And the Wizards, who needed a replacement for the injured Gheorghe Muresan, are happy to have his physical presence.

Around the league

In this, his last season with the Bulls, Phil Jackson got his 500th win on Tuesday faster than any coach in NBA history (682 games; Riley needed 684). In Jackson's first win, Nov. 3, 1989, Jordan scored 54 points, current Bulls assistant Bill Cartwright had 15 rebounds and guard Ron Harper (then playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers) scored 36. Bulls forward Dennis Rodman gave his personal minister, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Rolex watch for Christmas. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the trade that sent Jason Kidd and two other players from Dallas to Phoenix for Michael Finley, A. C. Green and Sam Cassell (now in New Jersey). Dallas is 20-64 since the deal, Phoenix 48-31 (through Friday). "If they say they don't regret [the trade], I bet they're not telling the truth," Kidd said of the Mavericks. "I'm going to make them regret it. I do get satisfaction from seeing where I am and where they are."

The Denver Nuggets scored a franchise-low seven points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets are 0-15 on the road, the only team in the league without a road win. 76ers forward Derrick Coleman and Pistons center Brian Williams nearly came to blows in visitors' locker room after Detroit's win in Philadelphia on Monday. After Coleman entered the locker room to say hello to a friend, Williams yelled, "Get out of here! This is the visitors' locker room!" Coleman threw a punch at Williams, and the two had to be separated. The Minnesota Timberwolves ended a 26-game losing streak to Seattle with a 100-96 win Tuesday. The span between wins over Seattle: six years, nine months, eight days. After drawing 45,790 for their first game against Chicago this season at the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Hawks already have sold more than 40,000 tickets for the March 27 game against the Bulls.

Game of the week

Atlanta at Los Angeles Lakers, Friday: Both teams started the season 11-0, although both have cooled off considerably since then.

Quotable

"I think there are a lot of ills in Philadelphia right now that have to be cured. I don't feel I've played with a true point guard since I've been in the league. For me to fulfill my potential, it's good to be in a situation where the ball is being shared." -- Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse, in an apparent dig against former 76ers teammate Allen Iverson.

Jerry Bembry can be reached via the Internet at Jeryol.com.

Jerry Bembry's power rankings

Top 10

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1. Seattle (1): Undefeated against Pacific Division.

2. L.A. Lakers (2): Just 5-4 against Eastern Conference.

3. Chicago (6): Rodman is on his best behavior.

4. Atlanta (3): Struggling since 11-0 start.

5. Miami (5): Zo's return moves Austin to bench.

6. Utah (--): Russell, Ostertag turning corner?

7. Indiana (10): Best start since joining NBA in 1976.

8. Cleveland (7): Rookies having a major impact.

9. San Antonio (--): Robinson, Duncan starting to mesh.

10. Phoenix (9): Learning to win without KJ.

Bottom 5

25. Philadelphia (--): It wasn't Stackhouse's fault.

26. L.A. Clippers (26): League's worst defensive team.

27. Toronto (29): Lost two at buzzer last week.

28. Dallas (27): Dropped 11 straight.

29. Denver (28): League's worst record.

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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