Injury blocks Ratliff's route

This article was published in the Inquirer on February 9, 2001.

The all-star break brought the 76ers a break they didn't need yesterday when the team learned that Theo Ratliff will miss four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right wrist.

Ratliff, a sixth-year center, was preparing to head to Washington for his first appearance in an All-Star Game when he got the news.

"An MRI study was done this morning which indicated that he had a stress fracture of his right scaphoid bone," said Jack McPhilemy, the Sixers' team physician. "Theo was later seen by Dr. Lee Osterman, a hand surgeon with the Philadelphia Hand Center, who confirmed the fracture with a clinical examination. "

Ratliff, who was unavailable for comment, will wear a cast on his wrist for two weeks. If the injury hasn't healed much when the cast comes off, he could need surgery to have a screw inserted.

McPhilemy said the bone, near the thumb, is "very tricky, one that's very fragile with a high rate of healing problems. " And because of it, he said, "although we're optimistic because we caught the injury early, there's still a very distinct possibility that it may not show evidence of healing in two weeks when we take the cast off and get another MRI. "

So it comes down to this: The best-case outlook is a four-week absence. The worst-case scenario would be six weeks. Either way, the Sixers are struggling with numerous injuries and praying they will just have enough healthy bodies to finish the regular season.

"[Wednesday] night, he came out toward the end of the game, complaining of wrist pain," McPhilemy said, referring to the blowout loss to the Houston Rockets. "I asked Theo what happened, and he said he got chopped on the wrist a couple of times. He had originally hurt himself in Dallas on Jan. 23, got X-rays at the time, and they were normal. There was just general discomfort.

"The wrist was actually improving, until [Wednesday]. When I examined him, he was pretty uncomfortable. "

This was just the latest blow on the injury front.

Five minutes into training camp, center Matt Geiger injured his left knee, and he has yet to recover. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on the knee, he aggravated his right knee because of the pressure he had been putting on it. That has limited him to playing just nine games this season.

Before training camp was over, rookie Speedy Claxton's season had ended because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

In December, starting point guard Eric Snow learned that he had a stress fracture in his right ankle. Although the Sixers hope he will be back for Tuesday's game in Milwaukee, Snow said his return depends on a bone scan he will undergo next week.

Therapeutic exercises for his ailing back have not helped Toni Kukoc return to the lineup. Meanwhile, Allen Iverson's ailing elbow, hips and shoulders have not fully healed, and Aaron McKie looks more worn down each day.

Coach Larry Brown, who is scheduled to go to Washington today with Ratliff, can't even conduct full-fledged practices because of the scarcity of bodies. Now, the anchor of his defense is sidelined.

"What I want most is for guys to get healthy," Brown said recently. "Once we get healthy, we'll have our full squad. Then we can practice together and do all the things we need to do. It's a miracle we've lasted this long. "

But there are still 32 games to go, and the Sixers are showing signs of time wearing on them.

The Houston Rockets gave them the bum's rush on Wednesday with 23 points each from guards Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. The game exposed the Sixers' deficiencies as individuals on defense.

At the moment, the Sixers are not as quick. They are not very athletic. And heart can take them just so far.

"We've just got to keep playing basketball," Iverson said as the team headed into the break. "Use this time here that we've got to be with our family and friends, then come back and get focused on the agenda at hand. I don't think we have to change anything. We just have to do what we do, better. And that's play defense. "

But Snow is out, and now Ratliff is, too. The team's 6-foot-10, 225-pound center. The guy who has played in all 50 games this season, who has averaged 12.4 points and 8.3 rebounds and is the NBA's leader in blocked shots, averaging 3.74 per game.

Play defense? How will the Sixers manage to do that?