In the aftermath of Friday night's bruising, foul-marred, 98-95 overtime victory in Atlanta, the Philadelphia 76ers have lost their advantage over injury-riddled Milwaukee in their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series starting today at the Spectrum.
Lionel Hollins, the 76ers' best defensive guard, fractured the knuckle of the little finger on his left (shooting) hand when he punched Atlanta's Wayne (Tree) Rollins; he will miss today's 1 p.m. opener of the best-of-seven series.
Andrew Toney, Philadelphia's second-leading scorer with a 16.5 average, sprained his left ankle Friday night and his status won't be determined until game time.
Even if Toney is able to play, Coach Billy Cunningham is expected to start Clint Richardson for the first time this season in Hollins' place. Richardson, a three-year veteran, was used sparingly this season, averaging 4.6 points per game.
Julius Erving probably will see extended duty in the back court, particularly when the Bucks use Marques Johnson as a guard. Johnson was forced to switch when Quinn Buckner, Junior Bridgeman and Brian Winters were sidelined with injuries. Philadelphia's only other guard is rookie Franklin Edwards, a first-round draft choice from Cleveland State who played only 291 minutes this season.
While the news was all bad in Philadelphia, Coach Don Nelson reports from Milwaukee that Winters played the full 32 minutes in the Bucks' intrasquad game Thursday and will be ready to face Philadelphia. Buckner and Bridgeman already have been declared out for the season.
Winters, Milwaukee's best outside shooter, missed the last seven games of the regular season with a pulled groin muscle. The eight-year veteran averaged 16 points and made 50 percent of his shots in a reserve role this season.
With Winters healthy, Nelson will have the flexibility to rotate Sidney Moncrief, Winters and ball-handling Robert Smith in the back court, using Johnson to match up with Erving.
Milwaukee won the season series, 4-2, losing a meaningless final game of the season in Philadelphia, but Nelson says that edge won't make any difference.
"I don't believe in any of that stuff," he said, "and I wouldn't if they had the edge. It's going to be a hard-fought series, just like last year."
Last season, the 76ers prevailed, 99-98, in the seventh game of the conference semifinals.
The series will continue Wednesday night in Philadelphia, then move to Milwaukee for games Saturday and Sunday. If necessary, the fifth game will be played May 5 in Philadelphia, with the sixth game scheduled for Milwaukee May 7 and the seventh on Sunday, May 9, in the Spectrum.
The winner will play the winner of the Washington-Boston series.
"I just hope in the next series someone in the league office will do something with this and let these men play basketball, not the reaching, pushing and grabbing stuff," Cunningham said following the 76ers' sweep of Atlanta, in which 75 fouls were called Friday night.
Hollins' injury came after he drove the middle, was elbowed in the face and knocked down by Rollins, who was trying to block the shot. When no foul was called, Hollins jumped up and punched Rollins from behind. Then he took off, running around the floor, away from the 7-foot-1 center, until Philadelphia reserve Steve Mix threw a body block that sent Rollins sprawling into the stands.
After conferring with the other game officials, referee Paul Mihalak called a personal foul on Rollins and nonshooting double technicals on both Rollins and Hollins, but didn't eject anybody.
Atlanta Coach Kevin Loughery protested the game at that point (7:17 left in the third quarter), but yesterday Commissioner Larry O'Brien denied the protest.
"That wasn't basketball out there," Cunningham said. "They were playing as if they knew they could do absolutely whatever it would take to stop a guy."
After his sensational game Wednesday night in Philadelphia when he scored 27 points, blocked eight shots and had nine rebounds, Darryl Dawkins scored only eight points Friday night before fouling out. Erving led the 76ers with 28 points and Toney had 19 before spraining his ankle.
Houston defeated Seattle, 91-70, Friday night and will play in Seattle today in the second half of the CBS doubleheader (WDVM-TV-9, 3:30). The winner will meet San Antonio.