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Ahead of their time: Suns, Jazz play opener in Tokyo

With the next sumo wrestling tournament nearly two weeks away and the 1990 Japan Series baseball championship only a fading memory, what are Japanese sports fans to do? For the first time, they will be able to go to a National Basketball Association game when the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz open the regular season with a weekend series at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

"The only thing we don't know is how the fans will react here," Phoenix coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said Thursday.

Organizers say they expect capacity crowds of about 10,000 for the games Saturday and Sunday (Friday and Saturday in the United States), the first NBA games played outside North America during the regular season.

Both teams arrived Wednesday. Fitzsimmons had run the Suns through practices at 3 a.m. in Phoenix to help them get acclimated to the 16-hour time difference. Three in the morning in Phoenix is 7 p.m. in Tokyo.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan did not have the luxury of attempting such adjustments because his team had to fly to Japan from New York after ending its exhibition schedule on the East Coast.

"We have been on the road for what seems like forever," Sloan said.

Basketball is not nearly as popular as baseball in Japan, but the NBA hopes that the two-game series will help stimulate interest. As part of the trip, former NBA great Julius Erving is holding clinics for students and coaches.

Around the league

Lakers: Rookie Irving Thomas, a 6-foot-8 forward from Florida State, was placed on the injured list because of a strained back. Thomas will be sidelined for a minimum of two weeks, at which time he will be re-examined, the Lakers said.

Bucks: Guard Alvin Robertson, unhappy with his contract, walked out of a team practice this week, but team officials expect him to play Friday night in the season opener at Detroit.

Kings: Sacramento signed guard-forward Rick Calloway and placed Anthony Bonner on the injured list.

Knicks: New York placed guard John Starks and forward Kenny Walker on the injured list, reducing the squad to 12 players. Hawks: Jon Koncak and Glenn Rivers have agreed to defer portions of their salary to have former Sidney Moncrief as a teammate. Koncak deferred $500,000 of his $1.5-million salary and Rivers $100,000 of his $1.1-million to enable the Hawks to remain under the NBA salary cap of $11.87-million in signing Moncrief for $510,000.

Rockets: Houston waived guards Byron Dinkins and Roy Marble and put forwards Buck Johnson and Matt Bullard on the injured list to trim their active roster to 12 players.