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O'Neal Takes Big Step in Recovery

November 01, 2002|Tim Brown and Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writers

Shaquille O'Neal took a significant step in his recovery from toe surgery Thursday, when he participated for about five minutes in a light scrimmage at the Laker practice facility in El Segundo.

Afterward, Coach Phil Jackson said the club was not ready to establish a day for O'Neal's return, but that he is beginning to consider life with O'Neal again.

"Anything's possible at this point," Jackson said.

Assuming no setbacks and clearance by his physicians, O'Neal would increase his practice load through next week and then target a return date.

The Lakers play five games in the next eight days, then have three days off before a home game against Atlanta on Nov. 12.

Uncomfortable with the Lakers' 0-2 start, O'Neal had asked Jackson if he should consider hastening his rehabilitation schedule. Jackson told him that the team's record "can't be a motivator."

Asked how O'Neal looked on the floor, Jackson said, "Big. He's big."

Five minutes at a light jog wasn't much, but it was as close as the Lakers had been to whole since Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and O'Neal was drenched in sweat by the time reporters were allowed into the gym.

"Spiritually, it lifts the team up a little bit," Jackson said.

Kobe Bryant, who sprained his right ankle Wednesday night in Portland, and Devean George, who sprained his left ankle in the same quarter, practiced as well, as did Mark Madsen, on the injured list recovering from a strained hamstring.

"It's a little sore, but I wanted to practice anyway," Bryant said. "I wanted to send my teammates a message that even if you're hurt, you have to practice."

George has two sore ankles and stayed with Bryant.

"I can't let people think he's tougher than me," George said.

Both are expected to play against the Clippers tonight.

O'Neal must be on the injured list at least three more games, and probably will be longer, but Bryant appreciated his presence anyway.

"It felt good to pass to somebody under the basket who can do something with it," Bryant said, laughing.


Upon further review, Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry was still steamed about his team's inability to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers to loose balls during Wednesday's loss to open the season.

Gentry said the Clippers must win the "hustle plays" in order to be the team so many people believe they can be this season.

He expects the Clippers to be at their best -- mentally at least -- against the Lakers tonight. They won't be at full strength until small forward Lamar Odom has recovered from a sprained right ankle. Odom is expected to be out for at least the next month and perhaps longer.

"I told our guys today, 'If I have to ask you to play hard, if I have to talk about effort in this game, then you're in the wrong sport,' " Gentry told reporters after Thursday's practice. "It doesn't matter who's out there. It still says 'Lakers' on the jerseys and they'll still the three-time NBA champs."


Lakers vs. Clippers

7:30, Channel 9

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- KLAC (570), KXTA (1150), KIRN 670 (Farsi), KWKW 1330 (Spanish).

Records -- Lakers 0-2, Clippers 0-1.

Season series (2001-02) -- Lakers, 3-1.

Update -- Laker forward Rick Fox will be serving the third game of his six-game suspension for fighting with Sacramento's Doug Christie in an exhibition last week. The Clippers are as fit as they're going to be for the moment. Elton Brand was ineffective in his first game since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Sept. 26, failing to score in 27 minutes in the loss to the Cavaliers. Gentry is still tinkering with his rotation and could start Eric Piatkowski instead of Quentin Richardson at shooting guard. Piatkowski is better as a starter and Richardson has been superb as a sixth man.

Tickets -- (800) 462-2849.

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