PROGRESS: Akeem Olajuwon's injured right eye will be examined today, and his doctor is optimistic the Rockets center can return to action ahead of schedule.

Olajuwon had surgery Jan. 14 to repair his eye socket after he was elbowed vs. Chicago. It was said then he would need eight weeks to recover. But now Robert B. Wilkins, who operated, says "he's progressing much faster than I had ever hoped for. . . . remarkable and I wouldn't be surprised if we could shave a little time off the eight weeks." . . .

After a month of mediocrity while Larry Bird recuperated from a back problem, the Celtics could have him in the lineup tonight vs. Charlotte.

He practiced full speed again yesterday and hasn't had any major setbacks since he resumed scrimmaging seven days earlier. Bird wanted to see how he felt this morning before deciding whether to play, Boston Coach Chris Ford said.

SPUR'S BONE: San Antonio G Rod Strickland had a pin inserted in his broken right hand and will be out indefinitely. The Spurs signed G Clifford Lett, CBA rookie of the year last season, to a 10-day contract.

With Spurs F Terry Cummings already out several games since fracturing the second metacarpal in his left hand in a game, Strickland fractured the first metacarpal, the bone just below the thumb, in a fight early Saturday outside a San Antonio nightclub. Team owner Red McCombs said he was disappointed about Strickland's injury but wouldn't take disciplinary action.

"He felt, yes, it was an unfortunate thing to happen," a Spurs spokesman said, "but {he's} not upset at Rod."

PACER'S SET: Indiana activated 7-foot-4 C Rik Smits, out five games after arthroscopic removal of bone chips from his right elbow, and dropped veteran C Jawann Oldham, a 10-day signee.