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Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Updated: March 12, 10:13 AM ET
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Los Angeles Lakers forward Karl Malone, set to return Friday, told ESPN's David Aldridge on Wednesday that the club misdiagnosed his knee injury, costing him a month of the season.

Malone has been out since December. But barring any setbacks in practice on Thursday, he will return to the lineup for Friday's game against the Timberwolves.

On Wednesday, Malone told Aldridge that the Lakers diagnosed his knee injury as a sprained knee instead of a torn medial collateral ligament. Because of that misdiagnosis, Malone says, his rehabilitation after the initial injury on Dec. 21 made the knee worse instead of better. Malone made similar comments in a Los Angeles Times story last month.

"For that month [after the initial diagnosis], I trained my a-- off," Malone said. "My training is at another level and I know that. The disappointing thing about it is, I felt like for about a month, I trained for naught. It hurt the situation instead of helped the situation. That is an accurate statement."

Malone says that the Lakers' doctors told him after an initial MRI of his right knee that he had suffered a sprained knee and could aggressively rehab his knee without fear of aggravating the injury. A sprain is, technically, a tear, but is usually referred to as a Grade 1 tear.

In contrast, the 40-year-old Malone says he actually had a "middle of the road" Grade 3 ligament tear -- the most serious grade of tear.

Malone says that the alleged misdiagnosis occurred because the MRI of his knee was taken too high. The top part of the ligament, he says, was not torn. Instead, it was the lower part that was injured.

Malone said that he began to suspect something was wrong after three weeks went by following the initial MRI and his knee was still hurting. During a trip to his Arkansas ranch with his brother in January, Malone says, it got worse.

"Me and my brother had been out," Malone said. "I had my brace on. We were looking at timber, because we own a timber company. We were walking the line. And I get back and prop my leg up, and I was like, 'This ain't right.' So I called my agent [Dwight Manley] and I said, 'I need an MRI when I get home. Just get me an MRI. Talked to the doctor ... who was in Newport Beach [California, where Malone lives during the season]. He said, 'Karl, you've got a torn MCL.' Without [taking] any MRI. He said, 'Here it is. It's lower.' "

Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Manley acknowledged that Malone had a second MRI and agreed that it revealed a ligament tear. The ligament didn't begin healing because there was fluid in the knee, which had built up because Malone had continued his vigorous exercise program.

Manley says he set up a meeting with the Lakers after the second MRI was taken and told them that the Newport Beach orthopedic doctors would now be treating him.

Lakers spokesman John Black declined comment when told of Malone's assertions.

There were some similarities in the prescribed course of treatment that both sets of doctors gave Malone. Neither, for example, recommended surgery. And Malone's doctors didn't get involved for a month after the initial injury and may have had an easier time making a correct diagnosis. But Malone, who says he has no anger toward the Lakers, still believes the first diagnosis cost him a month of the season.

"I was told it was my pain threshold," Malone said. "I was like, 'Bleep that, I know I have a pain threshold.' I'm built like that. After that, it took me about a month and a half to realize I was hurt. Even after when I got the [second] MRI. That's when I said, 'Damn, I am hurt.' And then I went through about two or three weeks ... distraught ain't the right word. I was very disappointed. I went to Arkansas, visited my mom's gravesite, did a lot of stuff like that. Mental stuff. And all of a sudden I started to come around. I had a good day, then I had a couple of bad. Then I had four or five good ones, and one bad. It was slow progress."

Malone said he could have played in Wednesday's win in Boston, but wanted to have a day of practice before going back on the floor.