Mailman shunning MRI for injury

Updated: June 11, 2004, 1:18 AM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Karl Malone played 18 minutes in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night despite the possibility he has a torn ligament in his right knee.

Karl Malone

He missed 39 games during the regular season due to the same injury.

Malone started and had five points and four rebounds in the Los Angeles Lakers' 88-68 loss to Detroit, giving the Pistons a 2-1 lead. He came out of the game for good with 6:01 left in the third quarter and the Lakers trailing 56-42.

"No matter what happened, when I put that uniform on, I've got to be the best I can be," Malone said. "We didn't play well as a team. We just didn't play well the whole night. They did."

Malone wore a brace, something he said Wednesday he didn't want to do.

"I just kind of bit the bullet and did it," he said.

Malone said he planned on playing Sunday in Game 4.

"My goal is to do that," he said.

"First half, I was content with the way he played," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He looked like he was struggling out there, I thought, in the second half. He gave us an effort, not everything worked for him.

"The second half, I didn't think he got loose. He just didn't get warmed up. The game was deteriorating quickly around him and we had to have some pressure up court and I opted not to push him any

further than that. We were pleased with the effort he could give."

When asked if he could have played during the final 18 minutes rather than sitting out, Malone said: "Probably not."

"Karl showed a lot of guts," teammate Shaquille O'Neal said. "He's obviously hurt out there. He's limping up and down."

Malone was injured early in the Lakers' 99-91 overtime victory in Game 2, but played on and had nine points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes.

He hurt himself early in the Western Conference finals against Minnesota, and his knee was drained June 1 -- the day after the Lakers eliminated the Timberwolves. He scored a career playoff-low four points in Game 1 against the Pistons.

Malone has chosen not to undergo an MRI for an injury the Lakers are calling a sprained medial collateral ligament. The team also used that description when Malone originally injured the knee Dec. 21, though it turned out he had a torn ligament.

"No one has to tell me what injury I have. When you've had it once before, it's a lot easier to say 'This is what that is.' I don't think it's one of those situations where an MRI would do anything for me," Malone said Thursday at the Lakers' morning shootaround. "Remember last time it was a sprain? And it was a tear. They're saying it's a sprain, so we'll say it's a sprain. It's a hell of a sprain."

When asked after the game if he would get any better in the three days between Games 3 and 4, Malone said he had an injury previously that took him three months to recover from.

Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, joined the Lakers last summer in search of his first championship following 18 years with the Utah Jazz. He reached the finals twice with the Jazz, in 1997 and 1998, but they lost to the Chicago Bulls both times.

He limped slightly through the Lakers' pregame layup drill. He seemed to play without a great deal of pain, but couldn't give his best.

Malone played in 1,434 of a possible 1,444 regular-season games with the Jazz.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press