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NBA FINALS / LAKERS VS. DETROIT

Medvedenko Figures to Be Next in Line

He could be a key player in Game 3 if trainers' solutions aren't enough to get Malone ready.

June 10, 2004|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

The news was supposed to be good, or at least encouraging. The swelling around Karl Malone's injured right knee was minimal. He would not have to see a team doctor or require an MRI exam. Officially he is considered day-to-day, and the Lakers have hopes Malone will be available tonight for Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Detroit.

"The trainers are working with whatever possibility he can use a brace or whatever support he might need," Coach Phil Jackson said of Malone after the team's practice Wednesday. "It limits what a player can do. Karl's not really an active player but he plans on playing. And we have not made alternative plans. If we do, we'll have to find a way; that's all there is to it."

Of course there are still plenty of obstacles before tonight, including the long flight to Detroit, how well Malone can rest the knee, how well it loosens up during the morning shoot-around and before the game.

So even though Jackson did not acknowledge a Plan B in case Malone is unable to play, the Lakers have one in place.

"Slava [Medvedenko] would obviously step up in the rotation," assistant coach Jim Cleamons said. "When Karl was out before, Slava was the starter. I would think if Phil needed to start Slava, he would come back with Luke Walton, Bryon Russell or Brian Cook. That makes sense."

With Horace Grant injured and Malone's status probably questionable until game time, Medvedenko is the last true power forward the Lakers have to try to guard the Pistons' Rasheed Wallace, who has averaged 10.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two NBA Finals games.

Walton, Cook, Russell and the injured Rick Fox -- who may be able to play after sitting out Game 2 -- are all better suited to small forward. They might be able to guard Wallace on the perimeter but probably would be vulnerable against the Pistons' 6-foot-11 forward in the low post.

Medvedenko has the size and strength, but he also can get into foul trouble quickly. When he guarded Wallace in Game 1, he had three fouls in six minutes.

"Rasheed presents quite a challenge," Cleamons said. "He's an outstanding player. Our hopes are Karl will be able to play, and that he will be measurably better than he is today."

The players said they would cope with Wallace as best they could if called upon.

"He's got lots of moves," Medvedenko said. "You have to concentrate on his moves and try to not let him do what he wants to do."

Said Cook: "The tough thing is Rasheed plays all over the floor. We'll all have to try our best to force him outside, be physical with him, and contest every shot. We have our videotapes of him -- what kinds of moves he likes, things of that matter -- and we've been studying. We have to try and do the best we can."

Walton, who was a factor in the Lakers' Game 2 win with seven points and eight assists, said guarding Wallace would be "a huge challenge. He is one of the premier players in the league. But I love challenges. If I get put on him, I'll do my best to try and shut him down."

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