Originally created 06/11/04

Million Dollar Man



AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Karl Malone started Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night despite the possibility that he has a torn ligament in his right knee.

He missed 39 games during the regular season due to the same injury.

Malone hurt himself early in the Lakers' 99-91 overtime victory in Game 2 that evened the finals 1-1, but played on and had nine points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes.

He had been injured early in the Western Conference finals against Minnesota, and his knee was drained June 1 - the day after the Lakers eliminated the Timberwolves. He scored a career playoff-low four points in Game 1 against the Pistons.

Malone has chosen not to undergo an MRI for an injury the Lakers are calling a sprained medial collateral ligament. The team also used that description when Malone originally injured the knee Dec. 21, though it turned out he had a torn ligament.

"No one has to tell me what injury I have. When you've had it once before, it's a lot easier to say 'This is what that is.' I don't think it's one of those situations where an MRI would do anything for me," Malone said Thursday at the Lakers' morning shootaround. "Remember last time it was a sprain? And it was a tear. They're saying it's a sprain, so we'll say it's a sprain. It's a hell of a sprain."

Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, joined the Lakers last summer in search of his first championship following 18 years with the Utah Jazz. He reached the finals twice with the Jazz in 1997 and 1998 but they lost to the Chicago Bulls both times.

Malone limped slightly through the Lakers' pregame layup drill and wore a brace on his knee - something he had indicated he wouldn't do.

Asked about that Wednesday, he said smiled and said: "I've never seen a samurai with a brace on."

As the game began, Malone wasn't moving well as he ran the court.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Malone was "not as bad as the last injury, but yes, he is stretched a little bit."