PREOCCUPIED:

Rookie F Richard Coffey's power of concentration is a major reason he bucked the odds and made it with the Timberwolves.

But Coffey, 26, can be forgiven these days if his mind wanders -- more than 7,000 miles to the Persian Gulf, where dozens of friends and acquaintances are serving with the U.S. military.

"I have mixed feelings about not being there," he said. "I feel sad because I served with a lot of them; I feel like I should be there. But then I don't wish I was there, I wish they were here with me."

Had this conflict occurred two years ago, Coffey would have been in Saudi Arabia with his friends. He was a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in 1983-86 before enrolling at Minnesota to play basketball. In 1986-89, the Army listed him as inactive.

When he was 18, Coffey was a 6-foot-1 center who drew no Division I basketball interest. So he joined the Army. By the time he left the 82nd Airborne Division (after 46 jumps) to be a 21-year-old freshman at Minnesota, he was 6-6 and 215 pounds.

BARKLEY BACK?

76ers F Charles Barkley had the cast removed his left ankle, just four days and two games after it was applied, and his recovery from a minor fracture is apparently going well.

Barkley did not play last night but is "day-to-day," according to trainer Tony Harris, who would not rule out Barkley's returning to action tonight against New York.

A FINE, SUSPENSION:

Dallas Coach Rich Adubato was fined $1,500 and suspended for one game by the NBA for pushing referee Bob Delaney and criticizing officials after a loss Wednesday to San Antonio. Adubato sat out last night's game against the Clippers in Dallas.