Malone says not practicing is 'a downer'

Updated: December 31, 2003, 8:13 PM ET
Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Karl Malone is probably headed to the injured list for the first time in his outstanding 19-year career.

Karl Malone

And Shaquille O'Neal will likely be fined as punishment for not informing the Los Angeles Lakers he was missing practice Wednesday.

Malone, the NBA's second-leading career scorer behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Dec. 21 in the first quarter of a game against Phoenix and hasn't played since.

Recovery hasn't gone as quickly as hoped.

"It's a downer," Malone said after practice Wednesday. "You want to be with the guys. The main thing for me to do is all the things I need to do to get better.

"Missing, seven, eight, nine games in one spell when I haven't missed that many in 18 years is discouraging. I feel like I'm letting people down. We want to make sure I come back when I'm supposed to, not a game or two too early."

The 40-year-old Malone missed 10 games before this season -- six due to injuries or illness and four because of suspensions -- and never sat out more than two games in any one season.

He joined the Lakers as a free agent last summer after playing his first 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz.

"If I could just jog from free throw line to free throw line, I could play now," Malone said. "I can't cut. May, June is more important than December, January.

"I look like I'm headed there (to the injury list). Going on the list, I'm looking at (missing) five more games, I don't like that. I don't want to go on the list, but I don't want to hold anybody else back."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said a decision would probably be made Friday night in Seattle before the Lakers face the SuperSonics.

Jackson said Malone definitely won't play at Seattle or against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night, and it's very unlikely he'll travel for games at Minnesota and Denver next week.

If Malone is placed on the injured list before Friday night's game, he would also sit out a home game against Atlanta on Jan. 9 and be eligible to return against Cleveland in another home game three days later.

Jackson said if Malone is put on the injured list, it's possible Rick Fox will be activated. Fox, who hasn't played since having surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left foot May 12, has said he's close to being ready to play.

Jackson said O'Neal "showed up missing" for practice.

"When he was contacted, he said he had some back problems," Jackson said. "He was still in bed, was going to see a specialist."

Jackson said he expects O'Neal to travel to Seattle with the team Thursday, meaning he doesn't believe the injury is serious.

By not calling in, O'Neal committed an offense that merited a fine, Jackson said.

Jackson said O'Neal hurt himself during practice Tuesday, but said it wasn't a practice-related activity and was uncertain whether it happened in the weight room.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press