Guard still nursing broken hand; Bender on IL

Updated: November 23, 2004, 8:05 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers activated point guard Anthony Johnson from the injured list Tuesday, two weeks sooner than expected, and he will immediately begin serving a five-game suspension for his role in a brawl with Detroit fans.

Johnson was in street clothes Friday night when teammate Ron Artest jumped into the stands to go after a fan he thought threw a cup that hit him in the face.

That touched off a melee in which fans threw drinks, cups, popcorn, a chair and other debris at the Pacers and exchanged punches with some of the players.

Johnson called his penalty excessive.

"I never went into the stands; I never left the court area," he said. "People certainly can see what the conditions on the floor were like. The chaos speaks for itself."

Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, Stephen Jackson for 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal for 25 games.

Johnson, yet to play in the regular season because of a broken right hand, was initially expected to miss six to eight weeks. But his return comes one month after he was hurt.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said Johnson was activated early because he was healthy enough to play, not just so he could start serving the suspension.

"He was scheduled to play tonight," Carlisle said. "He saw our doctor yesterday and this was the target date. I saw his X-ray. I'm not a doctor, but his X-ray looked a lot better than Reggie's."

Carlisle was referring to Reggie Miller, who also has a broken hand and has been lobbying Carlisle to bring him back early to bolster a roster decimated by injuries and suspensions.

The Pacers also placed forward Jonathan Bender on the injured list with a sore right knee.

Bender will miss at least five games, but Carlisle said he will be out much longer to make sure he is fully healed before returning.

"We're going to give this a six-week period to give him an opportunity to rehab and recondition his body and his right knee," Carlisle said. "The way it was going was not working out. The extremes were too high and too low. This is the best way to go."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press