Philadelphia 76ers center Moses Malone most likely will sit out the team's first-round playoff series against the Washington Bullets, a team spokesman said yesterday.
"Right now I would say he's doubtful, worse than questionable," said team public relations director Harvey Pollack. "It's unlikely . . . what's another word?"
Malone, General Manager Pat Williams and Coach Matt Guokas were not available to comment.
Malone suffered a broken bone beneath his right eye in a March 28 game against the Milwaukee Bucks and missed the last seven games of the 76ers' schedule.
He is listed on the team's roster, and, on Monday, he shot a basketball for the first time since he was injured. During the workout, he wore protective goggles, which made the basket appear farther away. He also said there was discomfort in the area of his injury.
Pollack said Malone had continued to shoot alone before practices Tuesday and yesterday with no noticeable improvement. He added that an official decision wouldn't be made until close to the series opener in Philadelphia on Friday.
In their practice yesterday, the Bullets continued to presume that Malone would participate in the series. The team worked out for nearly two hours before adjourning to the locker room to review films of the 76ers and go over their opponents' tendencies.
"It Malone's status makes things so uncertain," said the Bullets' assistant coach, Bill Blair. "If you know he's going to be out, then you can start to do certain things against people like Charles Barkley. If he's in, then our work is going to be cut out for us."
Despite their 54-28 record, the 76ers have frequently had their work cut out for them, too. Their entire season was filled with uncertainty and unanswered questions.
"Unsettlement is tough, and they've had a lot of disruptions this season," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery. "That doesn't make things very comfortable."
Over the last 10 seasons, the 76ers have won 560 games -- the most in the NBA. In that time they've won one league championship and appeared in either the league or conference finals another six times. They may also have led the league in team meetings.
Got a player mad at the owner? Call a meeting. One player upset with another? Call a meeting. Don't like the new team socks? Call a meeting.
This season provided plenty of opportunities for meetings. Before the start of the season, laid-back assistant coach Guokas took over for fiery Billy Cunningham. Almost immediately, Guokas had to deal with guard Clint Richardson, unhappy because owner Harold Katz wouldn't renegotiate his contract. Just before the start of the season, the popular veteran was traded to Indiana.
Three games into the season, another guard, Andrew Toney, went onto the injured list because of stress fractures in both feet. The injury got worse, said Toney, because Katz and team management eventually forced him to play.
Toney stayed on the injured list until the final two weeks of the regular season, when he was once again ordered by Katz to return to the lineup. In his first game back, Toney suffered a groin injury, returned to the injured list and is not on Philadelphia's playoff roster.
There were also periodic skirmishes between Malone and Katz, as well as Malone and Guokas.
With all the bickering in the locker room, the 76ers, with a quarter of the team having a year or less of NBA experience, floundered on the court. At one point in December, the team was 12-12 and in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, looking up at the Bullets and New Jersey Nets.
Acknowledging the potential for turmoil, Loughery, who saw the 76ers a number of times while serving as a television analyst for the Detroit Pistons, cited another factor that could have added to the team's problems.
"People don't look at a team's schedule when they're having troubles," he said. "Is a team on the road all the time early in the year; are they playing the tougher teams all the time? Portland which finished the regular season 40-42 was doing very well early in the year, but you knew it was just a matter of time before things caught up with them. All their early games were at home and they were just barely scratching out wins."
By Dec. 14, at 12-12, Philadelphia had played 12 games on the road, 12 at home. Half of the contests were against teams that would finish the season with records of .500 or better.
Perhaps closer to the root of the 76ers' problem was an idea expressed by Washington guard Leon Wood, a member of the 76ers until a January trade brought him to the Bullets. Occurring concurrently with the squabbles was an internal change that seemed subtle but carried major ramifications.
"Doc Julius Erving was still the man, but you could see that it was quickly becoming Charles' team," said Wood. "There were people making $2 million a year, but it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk about was Charles.
"I remember a couple of times when we were going bad and Doc would say 'We should have a meeting.' Some of the guys would say 'Well, Doc, I gotta do this, or that.' But whenever Charles said it, we had the meeting."
By the all-star break, what had previously only been whispered became clear for all to see. As Barkley went, so did the 76ers. The force of the second-year forward's personality had transformed into performance on the floor as well.
With the exception of Boston's Larry Bird in the second half of the regular season, Barkley was the most dominant player in the league. In his first 49 games, Barkley averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds; in his last 31, the output increased to 23 points and 16 rebounds. Ten NBA players had games of 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same contest. Barkley had five of them.
"He just took over, doing all the pounding, the dirty work, every day," said Wood. "At the end of games at the start of the season, everyone just looked for Moses, and Charles was there for support. Now they look for him. They may call plays for someone else, but if the first option breaks down it's Charles that they'll go to."
Not only has that proven to be a good idea, it may also make the question of Malone's availablity moot. In Philadelphia's season series against Washington, Malone averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds. The norm for Barkley was 23 points and 17 rebounds.
Forward Tom McMillen of the Bullets has played two weeks despite a chipped knuckle in his left hand. Forward Darren Daye worked out Wednesday despite a bruised thigh.