The Lakes have decided not to rush Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back to the NBA wars before giving his broken hand time to heal. He will be held out until at least Nov. 9, which means he will miss a minimum of 10 games.

His absence may prove just the edge Portland needs to secure the Pacific Division title and the all-important home-court advantage in any playoff series against the Lakers. The Trail Blazers, who play six of their next seven games at home, could easily be as many as five games ahead of L.A. when Abdul-Jabbar returns.

Abdul Jabbar's replacement, James Edwards, was a lightly regarded player in the June draft. The Lakers didn't get around to picking him until the third round. Then the 6-foot-10 center from the University of Washington became a star in the summer league in Los Angeles and was being touted by the Lakers in the preseason as a first-round-caliber athlete.

Edwards has played well so far, but it helps to surrounded by Jamaal Wilkes and Kermit Washington, who has gotten off to a sensational start. Washington is averaging 18 points and 17 rebounds and has become the darling of the Laker home fans.