Road to recovery
Kings' Stojakovic better, but not expected to startPosted: Wednesday May 29, 2002 8:57 PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Peja Stojakovic didn't contribute much to the Sacramento Kings in his first game back from an ankle injury. Still, playing at half-strength is much more fun than the alternative.
"It's better than sitting in street clothes and eating popcorn," the All-Star forward said. "I just couldn't be in street clothes any more. I wanted to be part of the game."
Stojakovic scored two points -- both on free throws -- and got six rebounds in 18 minutes on Tuesday night in the 92-91 victory that gave the Kings a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. It was the first action in 19 days for Stojakovic, who sprained his right ankle during the conference semifinals against Dallas.
Stojakovic, whose ankle was slightly swollen on Wednesday, doesn't expect to start Game 6 on Friday night. He'll probably come off the bench again behind Hedo Turkoglu, though he hopes to play more minutes.
He still hasn't participated in a full practice with the Kings since the injury, but he has responded well to individual workouts.
"I feel better on the court now," Stojakovic said. "Running up and down and pushing off the ground was the hardest. Every time I did that, I received some sort of instruction from my brain: 'Stop it! That hurts!'"
Any instructions from Stojakovic's brain were drowned out by the Arco Arena fans, who gave him two standing ovations during Game 5 -- one when he went to the scorer's table to check in, the other when he entered the game.
Stojakovic averaged 18.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in the Kings' earlier playoff games. He averaged 21.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in the regular season and earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, where he won the 3-point shooting contest.
Stojakovic's return, even for short stints, allowed coach Rick Adelman to return to an eight-man rotation and to play bigger lineups against the Lakers, who rarely go to a small lineup. But the threat that Stojakovic poses was more important than his contributions in Game 5.
"When he's out there, you've got to guard him, or he'll drop 3-pointers on you all day," Chris Webber said. "The Lakers know that."
Stojakovic still isn't near top form, but he made a big play at the buzzer by grabbing the rebound of Kobe Bryant's errant jumper -- the one that could have won it for the Lakers. Stojakovic entered the game just seconds before the shot.
"I was surprised I went into the game for a defensive stop," Stojakovic said with a smile. "My legs were tired and all my shots were short, but hopefully it's going to get better."