The Laker frontcourt that will receive a boost Friday with the long-anticipated return of Shaquille O'Neal--a decision made official Wednesday--will now be without Corie Blount thanks to a lingering injury of his own.
Considering O'Neal will face the Atlanta Hawks at the Forum with a doctor-imposed time limit of 20 minutes, and that he puts himself at about 80%, the loss of Blount at the same time because of a sprained right ankle could become a significant blow.
And an even bigger one if the reserve power forward misses more than one game, a good possibility.
Blount, a rebounding specialist on a team that needs all the help it can get in that area, first suffered the injury Nov. 9 against the Golden State Warriors and sat out the next game, in Dallas.
Later in the month, he sprained the left ankle but played on.
The problem with the right ankle--Blount said it had not completely healed--returned in the first half Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings.
Wednesday, he sat out practice.
O'Neal, meanwhile, continued to regain his conditioning. It is not to be confused with being in prime basketball shape, but it is an improvement noticeable after only three workouts back with the Lakers.
"He was terrific," Coach Del Harris said. "I don't think anybody would have known he was hurt if they just walked in. Hopefully, he'll feel good tomorrow. It was a heavy workout."
Said O'Neal: "Two or three games, I'll be straight."
Tuesday marked the first time in seven games the Lakers outrebounded an opponent. They are 13-2 when winning or tying on the boards, 10-5 when losing. . . . The qualifier: Tuesday's opponent, the Kings, struggle as much in rebounding and were without several big men. . . . The Hawks come in Friday on a five-game losing streak--a skid the Lakers started Dec. 19 at the Georgia Dome. This isn't exactly a collapse, though. Atlanta played, in order, the Lakers, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls, and now starts 1998 at the Forum and in Salt Lake City.