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LAKER REPORT

Malone Set to Return Friday

March 11, 2004|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Karl Malone said he expects to play Friday night, 2 1/2 months and 39 games after tearing a ligament in his right knee.

If he does, the Big Four -- Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton -- will be together for the first time since Dec. 21 and for only the 22nd time this season.

The Lakers play the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis, the third game of the trip.

"I would be genuinely surprised if he didn't play Friday," Coach Phil Jackson said.

Attempting to play themselves into a postseason groove, the Lakers would have 18 games with their desired starting lineup -- those four and Rick Fox.

Malone, who sat out 10 games because of injury, illness or suspension in 18 seasons in Utah, awoke Wednesday believing he might play that night against the Boston Celtics. But Jackson wants one more full practice from Malone -- today in Minneapolis -- before clearing him.

"If he would have said, 'Karl, we want you on the floor tonight, I would have done it,' " Malone said.

Barring a setback -- "Unless somebody runs into me in practice," he said -- Malone's return would come in a power-forward matchup against Kevin Garnett, perhaps having his best season.

"Start at the top, why not?" Malone said.

*

The NBA is assessing Jackson's criticism of referee Bob Delaney, whom Jackson described after Monday's game against the Utah Jazz as prejudicial against O'Neal.

"We're still looking at the comments," league spokesperson Brian McIntyre said.

*

Early in the third quarter, Celtic guard Ricky Davis stole a pass and stormed alone down the floor. Rather than take the easy two, with no Laker having crossed the half-court line, Davis attempted a between-the-legs, tomahawk dunk.

The ball flew from his hands and the crowd gasped.

Still alone, Davis chased down the ball and, with Bryant at about the free-throw line, scored on a routine dunk.

Afterward, Bryant laughed.

"He had his own little dunk contest," he said.

*

Payton, who earlier in the season passed John Stockton in career steals, on Wednesday scored the 19,715th point of his career, passing Stockton for 29th on the all-time scoring list.

"That's my guy," he said of Stockton.

If there was another player as meaningful on the career lists, Payton said, it would be Magic Johnson.

"That'd be about it," he said. "If I could catch him, that would be cool."

Cool it is. Johnson scored 17,707 points in his career.

*

Payton received a technical foul Monday night in Utah for, he said, asking Raja Bell to recommend a place for dinner.

Referee Sean Corbin issued double technicals, one each for Bell and Payton, late in the fourth quarter, as they stood talking near the arc during a free-throw attempt.

"For nothing," Payton said.

The worst part? Players are fined for technical fouls. So, Payton said dinner plans, "Cost me $500."

*

The judge in Bryant's sexual assault case has set aside the week of May 10-14 for pretrial hearings, if necessary. Hearings already are scheduled for March 24-25 and April 26-28.

*

Horace Grant received treatment on his sore hip Wednesday, said he felt "much better" and that he hoped to play Friday in Minneapolis on one condition: "I don't want Mad Dog [Mark Madsen]."

*

Devean George was benched about a minute into the fourth quarter after Jackson believed he had become distracted by a referee's non-call. George missed his six shots.

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