NBA teams lose punch with bans Mourning, Johnson out for decisive game


NEW YORK -- In his team's biggest game of the season tomorrow, Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning will be nowhere around. Neither will New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson, who, for the second year in a row, will watch his team's biggest game from a Miami hotel.

Mourning and Johnson were suspended for two games yesterday by the NBA, the result of a fight in which the former teammates exchanged punches with just over a second left in Thursday's Game 4 of the New York-Miami opening-round, best-of-five playoff series.

Mourning was also fined $20,000, for throwing the first punch. Johnson was fined $10,000 for retaliating. Also suspended for one game and fined $2,500 was New York reserve forward Chris Mills, who left the bench during the brawl but did not enter the fray. It's the second year in a row that the teams will play a decisive playoff game with key players missing.

"It's very disappointing," said Johnson, who was missed Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference semifinal series for leaving the bench after teammate Charlie Ward was tossed by Miami forward P. J. Brown. "It's like deja vu all over again. I'm going to be sitting in the hotel room."

The game -- a 90-85 win by New York -- was all but over when Johnson and Mourning became entangled while positioning for a rebound. Johnson's arm appeared to connect to the head of Mourning, playing his first game of the series without a mask that had protected a surgically repaired cheekbone. Mourning retaliated with a punch. In the ensuing melee, New York coach Jeff Van Gundy found himself attached to Mourning's leg.

During a regular-season game, Mourning and Johnson exchanged shoves after a flagrant foul by the Miami center. Obviously, there wasn't a lot of bonding between the two during their three years together in Charlotte.

"What Zo and Larry did, I think it goes back further than just here," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "I think there is a lot of depth to that relationship that is not good from what I understand."

Though Riley was not surprised about the suspension, he did say that Mourning is subjected to overzealous defenders.

"He does go through a lot," Riley said. "I can understand somewhere along the line he does draw the line. There has to be something done about [physical play], because certain teams abuse him to get him off his game."

What do the suspensions mean? On offense, each team loses its best low-post threat, turning this decisive game into a guard affair. Miami loses more on the defensive end, where Mourning is an intimidator.

Miami's Tim Hardaway (27.3 points) and New York's Allen Houston (21.5) are now the only reliable scorers.

"If we expect Tim Hardaway to get 45 points, we're going to lose the game," Riley said. "We need four or five guys to give us something."

New York could gain an advantage if Patrick Ewing, who is itching to play after being out since December with a shattered right wrist, returned. But Van Gundy said that will not happen.

Mourning, Johnson and Mills will not be allowed in Miami Arena tomorrow.

Pub Date: 5/02/98

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