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Lakers Take Step Back, Lose Forward

Pro basketball: Ceballos' status up in the air after he suffers partially torn patella tendon in final minutes of 95-83 loss to short-handed Spurs.

November 14, 1996|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers didn't play the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, they imitated them.

This time, the early-season trend of playing to their level of the competition took the Lakers all the way down, to a 95-83 loss to struggling San Antonio before 26,002 at the Alamodome a night after beating the undefeated Rockets, and to the ground. That's where Cedric Ceballos was late in the fourth quarter, clutching his right knee after falling during a twisting layup with 3:58 left.

X-rays taken at the arena showed he had suffered a partial tear of the tendon directly under the kneecap. Ceballos, taken off the court on a stretcher with 3:49 remaining, and then to the medical area with 1:05 left, was able to return home on the Laker charter flight late Wednesday night and will see team physician Steve Lombardo today.

The Lakers are waiting until then to put a timetable on how long their starting small forward, an all-star in 1995, will be out. After the game, he did not want to talk and they would not discuss a best-case and worst-case scenario, much the way Coach Del Harris did not have a chance to sort through his options for a replacement.

"I don't want to think about that right now," he said.

Eddie Jones, the starting shooting guard, could move to the frontcourt, putting Byron Scott in the opening lineup. Or Corie Blount, playing well at the power positions, could get the call.

The other Laker small forwards? Already on the injured list. Jerome Kersey was Ceballos' projected backup, but he has been out since Oct. 21 because of a broken left foot. Trevor Wilson hasn't played all season either because of tendinitis in his left knee and probably isn't close to being in game condition, though he may be ready to be activated and take some of the time there.

It figures trouble would come here, site of a long string of Laker disasters, from broken body parts to broken hearts (see: Vlade Divac's two missed free throws, Game 2, 1995 playoffs) to shooting woes, including the 39.5% Wednesday.

The Spurs came in 1-5, having failed to score more than 86 points in the process, and averaging 78.8 points. That about equals the number of wounded. Wednesday, they had David Robinson and Chuck Person on the injured list, Vinny Del Negro, Will Perdue and Charles Smith out and, among the nine who dressed, Greg Anderson playing hurt.

And it didn't matter. San Antonio raced to a 14-point lead at halftime, with Dominique Wilkins scoring 18 of his team-high 28 points before the break. Showing signs of life, the Lakers cut that to six with 8:43 left in the third quarter, but the Spurs needed only six minutes to push their advantage to 20 points, 73-53.

"I'm upset," Shaquille O'Neal said after piling up 30 points, 10 rebounds, six turnovers and four blocks in a return to the city where he attended high school for three years. "We need to learn to get up for all the teams. We have to realize all the teams are going to be gunning for us. Maybe we took these guys too lightly."

Maybe.

"We felt really good tonight and felt that the Lakers would take us for granted," said Spur Vernon Maxwell, who took Del Negro's spot as the starting shooting guard and responded with 22 points.

Maybe not.

"I think we were ready," Jones said. "We were focused. I saw it in everybody's face before the game. You could see that at the start [when the Lakers took a 10-2 lead]. We just didn't sustain it."

They were down by 14 when Ceballos came down the right side with the ball, bound for the basket. Maxwell was close, so Ceballos cork-screwed slightly in mid-air to finish the layup, then hit the ground. He crumbled and immediately went for the knee.

The Lakers stopped the clock nine seconds later with an intentional foul to attend to him. Trainers for both teams went out, then Spur team physician David Schmidt. Finally, a stretcher took him away, the left leg bent at the knee, but the right leg extended straight out.

By the end of the game, Schmidt had diagnosed the partial tear of the patella tendon, making the night a double loss for the Lakers. One that may linger in the standings, another that could hurt for months.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A Season of Expectations

The Lakers acquired nine new players this season, including Shaquille O'Neal and his $120-million contract. In turn, with big acquisitions come big expectations. Throughout the season, The Times will monitor O'Neal's numbers along with how the team compares to some of the best Laker teams in history.

GAME 8 OF 82

* Record 5-3

* Standing 3rd place

Pacific Division

1996-97 LAKERS VS. THE BEST LAKER TEAMS

*--*

Year Gm. 8 Overall 1987-88 8-0 62-20 1986-87 7-1 65-17 1984-85 3-5 62-20 1979-80 6-2 60-22 1971-72 6-2 69-13

*--*

Note: The five teams above all won NBA championships

THE SHAQ SCOREBOARD

Basketball Numbers

Wednesday's Game:

*--*

Min FG FT Reb Blk Pts 37 11-15 8-11 10 4 30

*--*

1996-97 Season Averages:

*--*

Min FG% FT% Reb Blk Pts 39.1 .608 .531 13.6 2.8 26.8

*--*

1995-96 Season Averages:

*--*

Min FG% FT% Reb Blk Pts 36.0 .573 .487 11.0 2.1 26.6

*--*

Money Numbers

* Wed. Salary: $130,658.53

* Season Totals: $1,045,268.24

* FACTOID: In the eighth game of the 1986-87 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 39, scored 16 points and 11 rebounds, outplaying Artis Gilmore, 37, and Wes Matthews, fresh from the CBA, scored 12 points off the bench in a 117-108 victory over San Antonio.

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