O'Neal has ankle problem

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

DENVER -- Centre Jermaine O'Neal is getting ticked off at the longer than expected wait to get back in the Raptors lineup -- and the speculation surrounding his injury.

Toronto's big ticket centre, who has missed three games and is questionable tonight against the Nuggets, insists it's an ankle problem that is the main culprit and not his surgically repaired left knee. How the latter joint was going to hold up was the big question mark when the Raptors traded T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and Maceo Baston to get him and the de-activated Nathan Jawai.

"Everybody wants it to be my knee, don't they?," O'Neal said after watching Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in street clothes. "I can guarantee you 99.9% that it's not."

He practised yesterday with the team at UCLA and is once more listed as day to day. Coach Sam Mitchell will say only he wants to put O'Neal back in, but won't argue with the medical staff when they advise more rest and treatment as they did Sunday.

A precautionary x-ray on Sunday showed no damage. The Raptors are 2-1 without him starting after he hurt the ankle Nov. 21 against New Jersey, while trying to play on the strained knee.

The Nuggets are breathing a little easier today after forward Carmelo Anthony was forced to leave Sunday's 104-94 win over Houston with a bruised elbow that had been bothering him for two weeks, He couldn't even lift his 16-month old son afterwards, but is probable for tonight. Anthony bowed out after two points in 13 minutes, ending his streak of 222 games with 10-plus points, a league high.

The Raptors already have their hands full with Denver guard Chauncey Billups. Denver is 11-3 with Billups since the trade with Detroit, all the wins coming in November. Mitchell said success on the balance of this trip must come from players such as Andrea Bargnani and Jamario Moon, who wound up with more court time because of O'Neal's absence.

"We have some injuries and we're nicked up, but those guys played great for us," Mitchell said. "We couldn't have won those last two (home) games without them. It just makes us a better team when we get contributions from everybody."


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