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Injuries Already Taking Toll in NBA

November 15, 1987|BILL BARNARD | Associated Press

The NBA season is a week old and already running out of feet.

Foot and toe injuries once again are a leading causes of player pain early this season. Armon Gilliam of Phoenix, second pick in the 1987 draft, and Cleveland's Ron Harper, 1986-87 rookie scoring leader, are the latest to fall.

They join on the sidelines such stars as Boston's Kevin McHale, Philadelphia's Andrew Toney, Norm Nixon of the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland's Sam Bowie and Larry Nance of the Suns.

Gilliam fractured a small bone in the big toe of his left foot, knocking him out for 3-4 weeks. Nance, meanwhile, has begun shooting but will be out for another two weeks because of an injury in another extremity, a fractured bone in his right hand sustained Oct. 24 in a preseason game against Chicago.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Gilliam was injured in the third quarter of Phoenix's opening game last Friday. He finished the game, scoring 14 points, grabbing nine rebounds, making three steals and blocking two shots.

"I was running down the floor and it just gave," he said.

Suns team physician Dr. Paul Steingard said the sesamoid bone -- one of two small bones in the foot that is unattached and lies on a tendon like a pad -- rarely fractures.

"You see it from time to time among tennis players who are on their toes serving and moving around," he said.

Phoenix also has two other players -- forwards Kenny Gattison and Winston Crite -- on the injured list. Gattison is out for the year with torn ligaments and cartilage in his left knee, while Crite, a rookie, has a sprained left ankle.

Craig Ehlo and Dell Curry will have to take over the guard spot for 8-10 weeks after Harper, who averaged 23 points last season, broke a bone in his left foot and severely sprained his left ankle in Cleveland's second game last Saturday night.

"I'm going to put some pressure on myself to perform well and help the team," Curry said. "Any time a team loses a 20-plus scorer like Ron, it's going to hurt, and somebody has to take up the slack. I'm going to take it upon myself, and we have to do it as a unit, too.

"It's a big loss, and Ron's a great player. But we can't quit," Curry said.

Cavaliers forward John Williams also is on the sidelines with a sore left foot and is expected to be out for another week.

Toney, who has missed 106 games the last two seasons, continues to have trouble with his feet.

Toney said his feet "are hurting all the time. I don't know what it is. I'm just going with it. I think I can play, but I don't know how effective I can be. My feet don't allow me to make hard, aggressive cuts. I'm not into trying what I used to do, just whatever I can do."

Nixon, who missed all of last year, and Gene Banks are out with Achilles tendon injuries.

The Bulls have withheld $100,000 from Banks' guaranteed salary because, they said, he played in an unsanctioned all-star game during the offseason.

"They're treating me like some kind of criminal or like I'm on drugs," Banks said. "It's almost like I was a murderer or that I killed somebody's mother. I wonder why I'm getting this treatment."

The New Jersey Nets started the season with Orlando Woolridge, Otis Birdsong, Keith Lee, Kevin McKenna and Tony Brown out with injuries.

Just before the Nets' opening night, they had only eight healthy players, forcing late trades to acquire Adrian Branch of the Lakers and rookie Dallas Comegys of Atlanta in exchange for draft choices. Branch started New Jersey's first game less than 24 hours after his arrival from the West Coast.

A year ago, the Nets went 24-58 as their injury situation got progressively worse.

"In retrospect, last year only got worse because of injuries," Wohl said. "This year can only get better."

Golden State forward Larry Smith returned to practice last week for the first time since he injured his right thigh during the first week of training camp last month.

By the time practice was over, however, he was in the hospital getting eight stitches, the victim of a Dave Feitl elbow that slashed the skin above the right eyebrow.

"It's like everything's going bad for me right now," said Smith, who said he was considering a change of his No. 13 jersey number.

The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy back from training camp injuries, are unscathed during the regular season.

But Coach Pat Riley calls injuries "the one great uncontrollable factor."

"I thought Boston had a chance to repeat last year, but the injury bugaboo hit them," Riley said. "It's something you just can't control, but it can ruin a potential championship team's chances."

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