by Conrad Brunner
March 2, 2004
Ron Artest's return to the active roster today may surprise those who speculated he'd miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb less than two weeks ago, but it was hardly a shock to his teammates.
Jermaine O'Neal predicted as much after Monday's practice.
“I think we may have Ron back this week,” O’Neal said. “That’ll be good for us.”
Artest not only was activated from the injured list, he returned to his spot in the starting lineup as the Pacers opened a four-game road trip with a 96-88 victory at Golden State. He had 12 points and six rebounds before fouling out in the final minute. Rookie James Jones was placed on the injured list with a contusion to his left quadricep.
Artest underwent surgery in New York on Feb. 19. After a follow-up examination Monday in New York, he was cleared by Dr. Michelle Carlson to play. Artest will wear protective padding around the thumb.
Artest's return leaves the Pacers at relative full strength, although O'Neal is battling tendinitis in his right knee. So far, it has only limited his practice time, but is a situation that will bear watching.
“My knee is really struggling a lot when I play back-to-back games and play a lot of minutes,” O’Neal said. “I had (Sunday) off and coach Carlisle gave me today off so I could get some rest and treatment. I definitely want to be able to play these next two games. Then there’s a day off after that. And as long as I can put some days between games, I think I can get through the season.
“The afternoon of the Sixers game (Saturday night), I thought I may not be able to play. It’s going to be a while before it gets better. But if I keep getting it treated and we put some space on the second-place team, in the last week or two I can sit out and get some rest for the playoffs. The playoffs start three days after the last regular-season game, so I don’t have much time to rest.”
After playing Golden State on Tuesday night, the Pacers face the Clippers on Wednesday. After a day off, they travel to Utah for a Friday night game, then wrap up the trip Sunday night in Denver. After returning home to face Toronto next Tuesday night, they hit the road to face Boston (March 12) and Cleveland (March 14). Then comes the season-closing stretch in which 10 of the final 16 games will be at home.