MILWAUKEE, JAN. 8 -- The Houston Rockets have done an about-face and now say Akeem Olajuwon will need surgery to repair the right side of his face, injured Thursday against Chicago.

They say he will miss about two months, not the previous estimate of one, but will know for certain after Monday's operation.

"There was the feeling that there was a 40 percent chance of complications if he didn't get the surgery," said General Manager Steve Patterson. "We wanted to do what was best for his career, so for the rest of {it} and the rest of his life he'll have good eyesight."

Olajuwon had been told there was a 50-50 chance complications from the blow -- administered by Bill Cartwright's accidental elbow -- could necessitate surgery to prevent vision damage. After further consultation today, Patterson said the surgery indeed would be necessary.

"My understanding is there is no downside," Patterson said. " . . . He should be able to maintain his conditioning through bike riding and weightlifting."

Olajuwon's injury was diagnosed as a blowout fracture of the floor and medial walls of the bone structure that houses the right eyeball. The Mark Jackson Issue

Mark Jackson is telling friends he wants out of New York. He got criticized last season for coming into training camp out of shape, and he got benched for Maurice Cheeks in the playoffs. This camp, Jackson came in great shape, and Cheeks has been injured. Yet Cheeks still starts.

Frankly, Jackson has a point. No matter what you think of his game, the Knicks traded Rod Strickland and kept Jackson and his $1.7 million salary. By default, Jackson is the guy. He should get the requisite playing time. New York isn't going anywhere playing John Starks.

Add Knicks: Observers think the team has the look of quitting on new coach John MacLeod, if they haven't already. . . .

The Chris Jackson Issue

Denver's front office people are taking turns giving Paul Westhead votes of confidence. For Westhead's part, he's playing first-round pick Chris Jackson more. His minutes have gone from 19.4 to 24 in the last month.

"He's learning to play to exhaustion," Westhead said of Jackson's recent 35-minute effort against the Bullets. "He was bent over in incredible pain after the game. Even late in the last five minutes, he was pushing the ball, which we were trying to get from him from Day One. But rookies all have their time to kind of figure out what the deal is. When we played the Jazz in Utah, he decided to step forward and say 'I'm going to do what you want. I'll do it as best I can.' And every game after that he's been doing that."

You might want to consider that the Nuggets have now given up this season's biggest scoring games (Bernard King and the Clippers' Charles Smith, 52 apiece), the biggest assist game (Orlando's Scott Skiles, 30) and the biggest rebounding game (Dennis Rodman's 23).

The Timber's Topper

Word is that Minnesota guard Pooh Richardson, backed by Philadelphia acquaintances, went to owner Bob Stein last week and asked that the offense be opened up a little. Whether it's true or not, the Timberwolves did promptly post their two biggest outputs of the season.

One thing going well for the Timberwolves is rookie center Felton Spencer. He's huge, and much more nimble than he used to be.

"The difference between him now and when he first started playing," said Washington's Pervis Ellison, a three-year teammate at Louisville, "it's like he's two different people. When I first saw him, he weighed 300 pounds. He was kind of awkward. Now you can hardly tell."

For Spencer, the stumbling stopped when "Swan Lake" began.

"We took ballet lessons one summer," Spencer said. "They had an instructor come in and teach us some coordination. It really helped me a lot to improve. There were stretching exercises and stuff to strengthen your legs and muscles in your lower body to help improve your balance."

The Lakers saw Portland glitch just for an instant last week, losing two in a row. But they then lost to Golden State the night after beating the Trail Blazers in Portland. The Los Angelenos are still lagging.

"At times," James Worthy said, "we have a tendency not to know what we're in completely. Maybe two players are running one thing and the others are running something else." . . .

Back-to-back with Charles Barkley: The 76ers' stalwart is NBA player of the month for December -- as he was for November. Last month's 13-game averages: 33.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.3 steals. . . .

It's great to see ex-Bullet Larry Robinson didn't stay unemployed long. The Warriors signed him Tuesday, when they put Sarunas Marciulionis on the injured list. Robinson handled what could have been a classless situation -- being kept around until Ledell Eackles was ready to play -- with class.