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Sparks, Leslie Get Good News

Star center, sidelined for a month in which the team was 4-7 without her, is expected to return along with Milton in Thursday's game.

August 12, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

Help is on the way for the beleaguered Sparks.

Lisa Leslie, who has not played since injuring her right knee in the WNBA All-Star game July 12, resumed practicing with the team Monday and is expected to return to the lineup when the Sparks play at Minnesota on Thursday.

"I feel good," Leslie said after the practice. "I'm excited about playing ... it's like the first day of training camp. I'm really pushing through and going hard.

"Conditioning will definitely be a factor, but my knee felt really good.... I was pretty much at a level one [or] two of pain. But it's nothing that can stop me now."

The Sparks were 15-3 and had a 4 1/2-game lead in the Western Conference before Leslie sustained a painful bone bruise in a collision with Detroit's Swin Cash while battling for a rebound in the All-Star game.

The Sparks have gone 4-7 since Leslie's injury -- 1-4 in the last five games, including a franchise-worst 92-56 loss in Seattle -- and have been passed by Houston in the West. The teams begin the week separated by a half-game and play at Houston on Saturday. The Sparks, who also end the regular season against Houston at home, have five games left while the Comets have six.

"I never saw myself as the heart of our team," Leslie said. "But our team looked like it was playing without heart. And in turn I realized that they are my heart and I work hard for them. I think once we put the body back together things will be fine."

Leslie hasn't been the only Spark injured in the second half. Tamecka Dixon missed four games because of a strained left knee and is still not 100%. DeLisha Milton (ankle) spent the last week on the injured list with Leslie, missing three games.

Milton also returned to practice Monday and is expected to be activated for Thursday.

"Being back means that I can practice all the way with the team and not sit out certain plays," Milton said. "At this point I feel good; it's nice to be back with my teammates. It was such a rough road trip on them."

But it was the absence of Leslie -- in particular her 18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and three blocked shots a game -- the Sparks felt the most.

"I'm happy my soldiers are back," Dixon said. "We need an inside presence and we can't win without it."

Spark General Manager Penny Toler said team physicians have told her Leslie should not do any more damage to her knee by returning.

"It was the pain that needed to go away," Toler said. "All of her major ligaments were fine. But she still had problems with the swelling and the bending.

"We don't expect her to be 100% on Thursday, and we'll limit both her and DeLisha's minutes. But both of them have to get their timing back."

To make room for Leslie, Toler said the team would not re-sign forward Lynn Pride when her seven-day contract ends Wednesday.

Toler said the team had not decided on the roster move needed to activate Milton.

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