by Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis, October 15, 2002 - Lingering pain in his sprained right ankle is becoming a cause for concern for Reggie Miller.
Nearly seven weeks after suffering the injury in the third quarter of a U.S. exhibition game against Germany in Portland, OR, while tuning up for the World Basketball Championship, Miller is still not at full strength. He doesn't expect to play in Wednesday night's preseason game against Denver in Conseco Fieldhouse and isn't sure, in fact, at what point he will be able to return. The Pacers play again at home Friday night against Minnesota before hitting the road for three in a row to wrap up the preseason schedule.
"That's what I'm a little worried about now," Miller said after practice Tuesday afternoon. "I thought a little bit of the pain would've gone away but it hasn't and that's a little concerning to me. That's why I'm not in a hurry or in a rush to try to get back to game action. If I can continue to practice with the guys and try to keep my conditioning up, I'll be happy with that.
"There's movements I wish I could do out there, offensively and defensively. It's a little bit of a struggle. It's been a while since I've had a severe ankle injury like this. The last time I can remember might've been '94 right before the preseason started. It's been a while since I've had an ankle injury of this magnitude. I'm going to baby it a little bit until I get as healthy as possible. I want to be as close to full strength by the 30th (the regular-season opener at home against Houston) more than anything else."
Miller missed the first three games in the world championship and was not at full strength when he returned. Though he hasn't participated in any of the three preseason games, he has participated in most every practice and scrimmage. He played the first half of the team's public intrasquad scrimmage on Monday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
He is practicing in order to maintain cardiovascular fitness, but is not yet to the point that he would feel fully effective in game situations.
"I'm getting better but the jury is still out," he said. "I can participate in practice and a lot of drills and some up-and-down scrimmaging, I still don't think I'm ready for live action. There's still some pain and a little bit of swelling, but hopefully (he can return) soon. I can't say which one of these exhibition games for certain I'll be back but I'd like to get a couple in to get my timing and sharpness for the 30th."
Miller likely will be joined on the sidelines Wednesday by leading scorer Jermaine O'Neal, who suffered a left ankle sprain Saturday night against Atlanta. O'Neal went through practice on Tuesday, then went for an MRI exam on the ankle, which was previously operated on while he was with Portland.
"I'm still a little sore," O'Neal said. "It's better than it was yesterday and I thought yesterday was pretty good. I'm going to take it day by day. My focus is to try to get ready for the season opener, which is a couple of weeks away.
"If it feels this way (Wednesday), I'm not going to play. I always want to be out there in the preseason to work on some of the things I haven't been doing well but the biggest goal is to be healthy for the opening game."
With Ron Artest out the remainder of the preseason while allowing a surgical incision on his right pinkie finger to heal and Austin Croshere also out while recovering from foot surgery, the Pacers have just 12 healthy players - which means there is no rush to make any cuts.
Rookie guard Nate Green and veteran centers Greg Foster and Oliver Miller are all battling for a job with a team that may have just one opening, given the 14 guaranteed contracts and the maximum of 15 players that can be retained (12 on the active roster, three on the injured list).
"The guys we have are all playing well, so there's no hurry to do anything," said coach Isiah Thomas. "Those guys are playing good basketball so let's keep giving them an opportunity."
If the injuries continue to linger, though, they could have a detrimental effect on the team's cohesiveness and rhythm to start the season. With 10 of the first 15 games at home, the Pacers have made a fast start a priority. Considering the schedule follows with 14 of 19 on the road beginning in December and running through the first week of January, it is a virtual necessity.
"We've just got to get healthy," Thomas said. "I'm a little concerned right now with the injuries we're sustaining but for the most part but in terms of the attitude, work ethic and the things we're trying to get across in camp, everything is going well. ... I'm just concerned right now with the timing of our offensive sets and the things we're trying to do defensively. The players not getting reps and the proper time."