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LAKERS BROUGHT TO KNEES : CEBALLOS TEARS PATELLA TENDON IN LOSS TO SPURS SAN ANTONIO 95, LAKERS 83.

Byline: Marc Stein Daily News Staff Writer

From great to gruesome again.

Only this time, after yet another roller-coaster 48 hours for the Lakers, the ugliness is going to linger.

For as long as Cedric Ceballos stays sidelined with the partially torn patella tendon in his right knee he suffered Wednesday night - and that won't be known until today at the earliest - the Lakers will be reminded of the devastating conclusion to their brief tour of Texas.

The trip that started with such a tasty triumph in Houston ended with perhaps their worst-ever performance in their least-favorite building . . . plus the sight of Ceballos being carted off on a stretcher with under four minutes left in a 95-83 loss to the lowly San Antonio Spurs.

Before a crowd of 26,002 at the Alamodome - where L.A. has failed to win a regular-season game in seven tries - the Lakers repeated a pattern seen last week when they followed a road upset of the New York Knicks with embarrassing losses in Charlotte and Toronto.

Given that the Spurs came in 1-5 and were playing without David Robinson, Charles Smith, Will Perdue and Chuck Person - not to mention what happened to Ceballos - this was worse.

Much worse.

``We win a big game and then we have a bad game,'' said Lakers guard Eddie Jones. ``I don't know why it happens like that.

``You have a few games like that, I guess, games you're supposed to win, and everything just goes wrong.''

The Lakers (5-3) have already endured a few of those evenings just eight games into the season. Each of their losses came to a club projected to miss the playoffs.

And now they have to worry about Ceballos, whose ragged start to the year took a potentially season-ending hit when he lost his balance under the basket after converting a fast-break layup with 3:49 to play.

Ceballos, the Lakers' leading scorer the past two seasons but averaging just 10.8 points alongside Shaquille O'Neal, will be examined today in Los Angeles by team physician Stephen Lombardo.

The Lakers refused to offer a best-case, worst-case prognosis for Ceballos, but team spokesman John Black did concede that the injury was ``serious.'' Two other small forwards, Jerome Kersey and Trevor Wilson, are already on the injured list.

``Without Cedric,'' Jones added, ``I don't think this team would be where it's at right now.''

They can only hope that Ceballos' tear is indeed partial and can somehow heal quickly, just as they pray that their other serious problem will soon fade.

Presented with an immediate opportunity to make up for the Charlotte and Toronto defeats, and dispel Charles Barkley's notion that they're too young to ``take care of business'' against lesser foes, the Lakers crumbled again.

A hot start took them to a quick 10-2 lead, but that's the extent of the night's highlights. Despite dressing only nine players, and having failed to score more than 86 points in its first six games, San Antonio blew past L.A. in the second quarter and again in the third.

Dominique Wilkins, back in the NBA after a one-year detour to Europe, claimed beforehand that he no longer had the youth to fill in at power forward, then went out and scored 24 of his 28 points in the middle two quarters to go with 11 rebounds.

``Just a little white lie,'' quipped Wilkins, 36.

Besides O'Neal, who had 30 points and 10 boards, and Jones (18 points), the Lakers had little to threaten the depleted Spurs.

The only scare L.A. generated was O'Neal's third-quarter collision with Avery Johnson that nearly knocked the little point guard through the floor.

``He ran into a brick wall, that's what happened,'' O'Neal said. ``I don't try to hurt people.''

O'Neal added that the Lakers also aren't trying to donate victories to the NBA's underprivileged but just haven't learned yet to respect everyone.

``I think the guys really wanted to do it,'' Lakers coach Del Harris said. ``It just wasn't there for them.''

Said Nick Van Exel, who came in with a streak of 97 turnover-free minutes and departed with a line of two points, eight assists, six turnovers and one less teammate to pass to: ``I guess I'm not out of my slump yet.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

Photo: (color) Cedric Ceballos, pictured in the first half, suffered a torn tendon of unknown severity in his right knee.

Associated Press

Box: LAKERS BOX
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 14, 1996
Words:744
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