O’Neal beating timetable, could be back very soon

Here’s a story I filed this afternoon on Jermaine O’Neal returning to full contact practice, and updates on Andrew Bogut/David Lee injuries — @stewardsfolly

OAKLAND – No one expected to see Jermaine O’Neal going through a full-contact Warriors practice little more than a month following wrist surgery – including the veteran center himself – but O’Neal did just that Wednesday.

O’Neal had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist on Dec. 13, and the prognosis at the time was that he would miss three or four months and possibly the rest of the season. But now it appears O’Neal could even beat the assessment general manager Bob Myers’ made last Friday, when he said O’Neal could be ready to play in 2-3 weeks.

The 35-year-old O’Neal said he is taking it week by week and doesn’t really have a timetable, but he’s working as hard as he can to get back as soon as possible.

“It could be a week, two weeks, three weeks … as soon as I feel strong enough,” he said. “They gauge my strength every week, and it’s improved every week, so it could be next week, I don’t know. It won’t be as long as people thought it was, for sure. Hopefully, it does fall into the time frame that Bob said.”

So how did the first day of contact go?

“The most difficult part being a big guy is that you have to push off a lot, and that was the big thing that I noticed today, that I wasn’t necessarily ready for,” he said. “But I’d still give myself a passing grade and be able to take some contact from it. The biggest issue is it’s the dominant hand, the right hand that I shoot with, and I had a couple pretty good moves but wasn’t able to translate that into a basket. It’s the first day, though, I feel very positive about it, and I look forward to practice (Thursday).”

O’Neal, who is in his 18th and quite likely final season as an NBA player, said he understands he is in a race against the clock to try and get back to help the Warriors in the second half. He said he won’t wait until the wrist is completely healed, but he has to be functional before he’ll risk playing or he could be finished for good.

“It’s going to be sore for awhile, but the soreness isn’t what I’m looking to get rid of,” he said. “Just being able to operate – catch the ball, finish, also be able to hold guys up. If I can’t hold guys up, I can’t defend, and if I can’t defend, that’s taking away one of my stronger attributes to this team.

“But when you start to see the schedule getting shorter and shorter, and you see the team needs you in a game like Indiana where they had quite a few big guys, it becomes tough to watch,” he added. “I don’t necessarily like suits watching games. I prefer uniforms, so that’s another issue. We’re trying to do something special, and we need all our guys together playing together. We need to start putting this thing together and go on a serious run now.”

Coach Mark Jackson was simply happy to see O’Neal back in the mix and pushing toward active duty.

“It was great to see him on his first day going live and trying to establish a rhythm, getting closer to being on the floor in uniform,” he said. “It’s a great sign for us.”

On the down side, center Andrew Bogut (right knee strain) and David Lee (left shoulder sprain) both sat out practice but did suit up and do light work on the side. Bogut banged knees with another in Monday’s loss to Indiana, and Lee was injured when he got tangled up with Pacers center Roy Hibbert.

Although neither injury appears to be serious, Jackson wasn’t prepared to commit to either player’s availability for Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Oracle Arena just yet.

“They’re getting treatment and we’ll see how they feel (Thursday) and move forward,” the coach said. “Not really sure. Fortunately, there’s enough time between games. We’ll figure it out. If they can’t play, we’ll move forward and other guys will be ready. Hopefully, they’ll be fine.”

The Warriors will find out Thursday what seems to be an inevitability, that guard Stephen Curry will be an All-Star Game starter, the club’s first since Latrell Sprewell in 1995. The voted-in starters each conference will be announced during TNT’s pre-game show at 4 p.m. (the reserves will be announced on Jan. 30).

Curry, who is averaging 23.5 points and 9.2 assists, was second in the next-to-balloting announcement behind injured Lakers star Kobe Bryant and ahead of injured Clippers point guard Chris Paul, so he would appear to be a lock starter even if he doesn’t get the necessary votes.

“Assuming that it comes, it’s well deserved for him,” said Jackson. It’s a win for the good guys. It says a lot for this organization and for Steph Curry, so it will be a tremendous, tremendous honor, a thrill and a blessing.”

Carl Steward