NEW YORK -- Reserve forward David Lee returned Thursday night after an 11-game absence because of a right leg injury, giving the short-handed Knicks a boost in the race for a playoff spot.
Lee checked into New York's game against the Portland Trail Blazers with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter, his first action since leaving a victory over Milwaukee on Feb. 23 with a sprained right ankle and strained muscle.
Lee later saw a specialist in Indiana and the injury has been listed as a right leg stress injury. The second-year forward was expected to miss even more time, but was assured he can play as long as he can deal with the pain.
"All the doctors talked to each other and agreed and told me that it's up to me," Lee said before the game. "And they realize I'd be playing, especially in this next week, in a considerable amount of pain but that it's not going to do anything worse to it."
New York needed the help after losing three of four while playing without Lee and injured starters Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson, hurting their chances of finishing among the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Lee has only recently begun practicing again, and Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said he would normally prefer to have his players go through a workout at full speed before playing in a game. But because of the injury problems, he didn't have a choice this time.
"Under the conditions that we have, it's thank you for coming back and if you can give us 5, 10, 20, whatever we can get we'll take right now," Thomas said.
Lee had become one of the Knicks' most important players before the injury, averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 10.7 rebounds as one of the league's top sixth men. He was the MVP of the rookie challenge at All-Star weekend after scoring 30 points on 14-for-14 shooting.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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