OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors are getting one big man back sooner than expected but are suddenly trying to get two banged-up starters healthy again.
Warriors backup center Jermaine O’Neal participated in full-contact drills during Wednesday’s practice for the first time since undergoing right wrist surgery Dec. 13. While his return was encouraging, starting center Andrew Bogut missed practice with a right knee strain and power forward David Lee sat out with a left shoulder sprain.
Lee was injured in the fourth quarter of Golden State’s 102-94 loss to Indiana on Monday night when his pump-fake drew Pacers center Roy Hibbert in the air and on top of Lee for a foul. Lee made both free throws and stayed in the game.
Bogut banged knees under the basket and briefly came out in the final quarter. He brushed off questions about the injury afterward, saying only that “I’m alright.”
The injuries don’t appear serious, though, as both players did some light shooting on the side during Wednesday’s practice. Even still, Warriors coach Mark Jackson said he’s not sure whether Bogut or Lee will be healthy enough to play Friday night when the Warriors host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Fortunately there’s enough time between games, and we’ll figure it out,” Jackson said. “If they can’t play, we’ll move forward and other guys will be ready. Hopefully, they’ll be fine.”
O’Neal’s participation in a full-contact scrimmage puts him well ahead of schedule.
The veteran center said doctors originally told him his recovery would take three to four months following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist. Instead, he was back at practice in less than six weeks.
O’Neal said he has no target date to return, however, Warriors general manager Bob Myers said last week that O’Neal should be back in the next two to three weeks.
O’Neal’s return could provide a big boost to Golden State’s bench — which has been among the NBA’s least efficient units this season — and depleted frontcourt, which will likely be without fellow backup center Festus Ezeli — who’s recovering from right knee surgery — until at least March.
“I’ve worked extremely hard to put myself in position to come back fairly quickly considering the severity of the tear that I had in my wrist,” said O’Neal, who is averaging 6.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 18.6 minutes in 17 games with the Warriors. “But I’m continuing to practice every day now, continuing to go to the physical therapy as well and really making sure my body’s ready to go. It’s really kind of trying to put all the ingredients together as soon as I can.”
At the same time, O’Neal knows rushing back too soon could also set him back.
The 35-year-old journeyman, in his 18th NBA season, had season-ending surgery on his left wrist in April 2012 while with Boston and missed the playoffs. He said his strength and flexibility are improving faster than expected, but he’s still dealing with soreness in his wrist, which was wrapped in white tape during practice.
One of the most difficult parts of his latest rehabilitation, O’Neal said, is that a center needs to use his hands a lot to battle for position in the post. The other part he’s still struggling with is watching a streaky Warriors team searching for consistency and continuity in the season’s second half.
“It’s tough. It’s become even tougher now. You start to see the schedule get shorter and shorter, you see your team needs you, especially against Indiana where they had quite a few big guys,” O’Neal said. “The physicality out there is something that I really thrive on. It becomes tough to watch. I don’t necessarily like wearing suits much watching games, but that’s another issue. But all in all, we’re trying to do something special. We need all our guys together playing together. … We need to start putting this together and going on a serious run now.”