The Washington Bullets, who have lost 50-man games this season due to injuries, have soul mates in the Boston Celtics, their opponents in Hartford, Conn., tonight, who have managed a winning record despite missing a number of key players.
The medical case of the Bullets (5-8) is well-documented, with preseason knee surgery claiming Bernard King and Mark Alarie. Neither forward is expected back before January.
Rookie guard LaBradford Smith, who will miss tonight's game, has played only five minutes due to a nagging ankle injury. Third-year forward Tom Hammonds, who was coming into his own, was placed on the injured list Tuesday with a hamstring pull and will miss at least two more games.
And the Bullets do not even count suspended forward John Williams, who reported at 310 pounds, as one of their casualties.
The Celtics have their own problems, with point guard Dee Brown, an emerging star, lost for the season after knee surgery Oct. 30.
Brian Shaw, the man he replaced at the point, is sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring pull, forcing coach Chris Ford to go with a makeshift backcourt of free agents John Bagley and recently acquired Ricky Green, 37, who was waived by Philadelphia.
Even more troubling is the uncertain physical status of perennial All- Star forward Kevin McHale, who has played little after undergoing preseason foot surgery. McHale has contributed 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in his sixth-man role.
Watching his teammate struggle, Celtics leader Larry Bird said: "Kevin is the type player who can make us a great team, but the last couple of games, we knew he was hurt. He tried to work through the pain, but the way he played hurt us more than it helped us."
Bird has staged a miraculous comeback from heel and back surgery. He has regained his All-NBA form, leading the Celtics offense with a 27.8 average and adding 9.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists a game.
Bird has received strong offensive support from shooting guard Reggie Lewis, the Baltimore Dunbar graduate, who is averaging 20.5 points, and fast-developing rookie small forward Rick Fox of North Carolina, who had a career-high 25 points in Saturday's victory over New Jersey.
The backcourt remains Boston's Achilles' heel, and Michael Adams, who scored 40 in the Bullets' 109-103 overtime victory over the Celtics at the Capital Centre, Nov. 2, will again be looking to exploit the slower Bagley.