Lou Williams was, in the NBA world, in the stratosphere. And, inadvertently knocked out of orbit, he was suddenly falling, a comet about to plow into the hard, wooden floor of Madison Square Garden.

This was Saturday night, 3 minutes, 30 seconds to go in the third quarter against the New York Knicks. One moment Williams, the 6-foot guard, was driving hard, rising, as if he were on an escalator, to the basket. The next moment, he was bumped by the Knicks' David Lee and was plummeting.

"I know when I took the hit, I just kind of closed my eyes and hoped for the best," the 76ers third-year guard said before last night's 100-88 win over the Houston Rockets. "Once I hit the ground, I just kind of did a mental check, just 'Let's see where the pain's coming from.' The good thing was, I was talking to myself, so it probably couldn't have been a concussion or anything like that."

He didn't just land, he thudded to the floor, his neck, back and right shoulder seemingly the most vulnerable areas. But it wasn't until after the Sixers completed their 101-90 victory that he realized where the real problem was.

The media found out yesterday as Williams - the rest of his body parts functioning reasonably normally - was placed on the inactive list with a non-displaced fracture of the distal phalanx of his right great toe.

Translation: He has a small fracture in his right big toe and was listed as day-to-day.

"I can walk around and everything, but not to the best of my ability," said Williams, wearing sneakers. "If was playing tonight, I'd probably just be in the way."

A potentially disastrous moment had dissolved into a conversation piece, as in, exactly how did he land on his back and somehow fracture a toe?

"You watch the [replay], my foot just crashed down head-on," Williams explained.

"Just shows how flexible he is, being a young guy with young muscles," Kevin Ollie suggested. "I imagine if I went down like that, my neck would be all messed up."

Several Sixers marveled at how high Williams had been.

"I told Lou that's why I don't jump that high," Kyle Korver said. "When I get hit, I just run into somebody. When he gets hit, his feet go flying over the rim. Your heart kind of skips a beat at first; he was way up there. At first, I was really scared watching him; it could have been really bad. I don't know how it's his foot [that's injured], not his head. Something had to get hurt on that fall."

Rookie Jason Smith, listed at 7-foot, was jogging to the scorer's table to check in as Williams elevated.

"I looked, and his body was at least vertical with me," Smith said. "His head was that high. I just said, 'Oh, my goodness.' I don't know how the [toe injury] happened."

Whatever happened, however it happened, Williams insisted he would not be in any way inhibited on his next foray to the rim.

"Actually, I'm going to go harder," he said. "Next time, I'm going to try and dunk the basketball, not lay it up."

Exiting, stage left

Dikembe Mutombo, the Houston Rockets backup center and the late-season addition to the 2000-01 Sixers team that went to the Finals, was in the Wachovia Center seemingly for the final time in the 17th season of his career.

Dikembe Mutombo, the Houston Rockets backup center and the late-season addition to the 2000-01 Sixers team that went to the Finals, was in the Wachovia Center seemingly for the final time in the 17th season of his career.

At 41, he has said this is his final season.

"My daughter is almost 11," said Mutombo, who did not play last night. "I don't want to come home when she's going to college."

He is the No. 2 shot-blocker in league history, with 3,231, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with 3,830; he also is No. 18 on the rebounding list, with 12,148.

"Too bad I'm playing in Philly today, and they're not giving me my rocking chair," he said, laughing. "I think the fans in Philly will remember me as someone who contributed to the success of their franchise."

Remembering Billy King

This was Dikembe Mutombo's take on the Sixers' changing of the guard, to new president/GM Ed Stefanski from Billy King:

This was Dikembe Mutombo's take on the Sixers' changing of the guard, to new president/GM Ed Stefanski from Billy King:

"Every organization goes through a period where they have all these big changes. Right now, I'm more disappointed, sad to see Billy King gone. It's very tough the way they tried to blame everything on him." *