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Malone and Fisher return to practice

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Karl Malone and Derek Fisher returned to practice with the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday after sitting out the previous two days with sore right knees.

Both said they felt much better and expect no problems Sunday night when the Lakers and Detroit Pistons meet in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles.

"Today was a good day for me," Malone said after practice. "I wore a sleeve and got up and down."

Malone tore a ligament in his right knee Dec. 21, causing him to miss 40 games. He said this injury had nothing to do with the previous one.

"It's just something that happened -- I know when I did it," said Malone, who had his knee drained Tuesday -- a day after the Lakers eliminated the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals.

Malone was injured in Game 2 of the conference finals, but continued to play.

Fisher was injured in Game 5 last Saturday night, but played 27
minutes in Game 6. He also wore a sleeve on his sore knee Friday.

"It's doing good, it's responding well," he said of his knee.
"When I treat it and ice it, it feels good right then.

"Today's my first day back out there with the guys. I can't
tell you how much I missed that. My timing is definitely off. [But]
I feel like I'll be ready Sunday."

Fox does not practice
While Malone and Fisher were much better, backup Lakers forward Rick Fox wasn't able to go through a full practice Friday because of soreness in his neck and shoulder
area he said was nerve-related and similar to a football injury
known as a stinger.
"It won't go away," Fox said, quickly adding he'll be
available Sunday night.
"It's one of those things where you can do everything you can
to get it loose, then it tightens up again," Fox said. "That's
just wear and tear of the physical game of basketball."
Fox defended the Pistons' defensive style of play that usually
results in low-scoring games, saying: "Winning is not boring. I
guarantee you, Detroit Pistons fans are not bored."
Of the matchup with the Lakers, Fox said: "Two different
styles."

Let the games begin
Pistons coach Larry Brown and Phil
Jackson, his Lakers counterpart, are known for dropping
not-so-subtle messages to the officials during the playoffs.
Brown may have been the first to do so when asked about using
Elden Campbell more than usual to guard the bigger Shaquille
O'Neal.
"You've got to play a lot of people against them, especially
big people," Brown said before the Pistons flew to Los Angeles
late Friday. "But if four is the limit of fouls on them, I hope
it's the limit on fouls on us."
When asked to clarify what he meant later, Brown declined to
elaborate. He was fined last month $7,500 by the NBA for saying
referees tried to antagonize Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace.
Jackson hasn't said much about the officiating in the days
leading up to the finals, but that could change at any time.

Regular-season recall
The Lakers and Pistons split their
series, with each winning at home in November during Los Angeles'
18-3 start to the season.
The Pistons dropped to 5-4 after being outscored by five points
in the fourth quarter in a 94-89 loss on Nov. 14 at Staples Center.
O'Neal had 21 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists and Gary Payton
added 21 points.
Four days later, the Pistons scored a whopping 106 points thanks
to a 33-point fourth quarter and beat the Lakers by 10.

Malone speaks with old friend
Karl Malone and former teammate John Stockton finally had a conversation this week after playing
phone tag.

"I miss him -- it's different being here in the finals without
him," Malone said. "We just talked, not a lot of basketball. We
talked about other things."

Malone and Stockton were teammates with the Utah Jazz for 18
seasons. Stockton retired after last season as the NBA's career
assist leader, with Malone the main beneficiary.

Malone, who joined the Lakers last summer in search of his first
championship, also said he spoke with former Jazz coach Frank
Layden this week.

"There's a lot of people in Utah who are pulling for me,"
Malone said. "I'll say this now -- to the Karl Malone fans, thanks
for pulling for me. To those who aren't Karl Malone fans, thanks
for keeping me motivated."