Even with the disappointment of the off-season, the Miami Heat had become the league's biggest surprise and was nicely positioned for the postseason. With the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Heat figured it could have home-court advantage until a possible Eastern Conference final series against the Chicago Bulls.
But with Alonzo Mourning out for perhaps 20 games after tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot last Friday, the seeding situation could change in the coming weeks. And the Heat could find itself slipping to as low as fifth or sixth in the East, a slide that could cost the team home-court advantage and lead to a possible second-round series against the Bulls.
"The only thing I'm thinking is that we have to keep going," Miami guard Tim Hardaway said.
Added forward P.J. Brown: "Everything's been going good this season. I guess something bad had to happen to us and it happened. But we've got to pick up the pieces."
The New York Knicks figure to benefit most. With Mourning out, the Knicks should be able to easily pick up the 1 1/2 games by which they trail the Heat going into tonight and win the Atlantic Division. That would mean New York would avoid a showdown with the Bulls until the conference finals.
The Knicks most likely feel the Atlantic is now theirs, but forward Charles Oakley said he doesn't care where the team finishes as long as it plays well.
"You know Miami doesn't have the best talent in the East, but they have one of the best records," Oakley said. "There's a reason for that -- they play hard, and that won't change.
"We've been the No. 1 seed, the No. 2, No. 3," Oakley added. "And we still ain't got nothing."
Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon had some choice words -- off the court -- for Atlanta Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo last week. Mutombo was quoted in a story as saying that Olajuwon, a Nigerian native, "is too busy being an American" and does not do enough for Africa.
When Olajuwon was shown the story before the game, he walked to the Atlanta locker room and confronted Mutombo, who sponsored the women's basketball team from his native Zaire during the 1994 Olympics.
Olajuwon told Mutombo he was "ignorant" and not understanding of the Muslim faith, saying that when he performs acts of charity it is against his beliefs to seek publicity.
"If I help someone, it is enough for that person to be helped," Olajuwon said. "It is not important that anyone else knows about it."
Bulls forward Dennis Rodman, who has been suspended twice this season, presented an interesting scenario to the team for his possible return next season.
"What I'd like to see is [operations chief] Jerry Krause write me out a check for $10 million and set it aside until after the season," Rodman said. "If I do the job, they pay me the money. If I don't do my job, they can keep the money.
"I'm doing this because I believe there are too many people coming into the league getting big money without ever going out and earning it," Rodman added. "I believe you should do your job first and then get paid."
Sounds like Rodman is finally making sense. Seattle center Jim McIlvaine ($35 million over seven years) might not clear the rookie minimum if he were playing under Rodman's proposed rules.
Speaking of Rodman, during the first week that TV commercials aired of him endorsing Converse, the price of the shoe company's shares increased by 37 percent.
Around the league
When the Phoenix Suns signed free-agent center Horacio Llamas Grey to a 10-day contract, he became the first Mexican-born player in NBA history.
NBA stability? Of the top 15 picks in the 1992 draft, 11 have played for two or more teams. That includes Shaquille O'Neal (top pick), Alonzo Mourning (second), Christian Laettner (third), Jim Jackson (fourth), and Tom Gugliotta (sixth). Thirteen of the top 15 picks in 1991 have moved, and 10 of the top 15 in 1993.
Since beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 21, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 20-10. The Timberwolves (28-27) have never before been above .500 this late in the season. They won their 10th road game of the season on Tuesday, the first time in franchise history they've won more than nine away games.
If the New Jersey Nets beat the struggling Golden State Warriors tonight, it would mark the team's first three-game winning streak of the season. The Nets have endured so much change that rookie guard Kerry Kittles now ranks fifth on the team in seniority.
It will be interesting to see how Utah fans react to Derek Harper when Dallas plays the Jazz next week. Harper vetoed a deal that would have sent him to Utah, saying "There was a Utah deal, but you go live in Utah. I don't have anything against Utah -- they have a nice team -- but I don't want to live there."
Quote of the week
New Jersey forward Jayson Williams, who will have surgery on his right thumb on Monday, his season over, played with torn ligaments in the thumb for 11 weeks, and coach John Calipari said recently that the league's second-leading rebounder had been playing without emotion. "They say I'm missing emotion," Williams said. "But it's hard to go, 'Rah, rah' because I'm going, 'Ow-ow.' "
Jerry Bembry can be reached via the Internet at Jeryol.com
Pub Date: 2/28/97