By Darnell Mayberry
Thunder forward Desmond Mason has been cleared to return to the lineup tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves after missing the past six games with a sprained right elbow.
Mason is expected to play tonight, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Mason’s playing time will largely be based on his conditioning.
“He will probably get an opportunity to play depending on the way the game is going,” Brooks said. “But he is ready to play.
“He’s done a great job of staying in shape. But there’s a big difference between running on treadmills and Stairmasters and playing against NBA players and game conditioning.”
Mason hasn’t played since logging 22 minutes Nov. 15 at Philadelphia, when he was taken to the locker room late in the fourth quarter because of the injured elbow. He participated in team shootarounds Friday morning and Tuesday morning before the Thunder’s home game against Phoenix but has yet to return to a full-contact practice.
“But I feel comfortable where I’m at,” Mason said Friday morning. “It’s still sore, but (the medical staff) said it’s going to be sore. That’s not really the (issue). The (issue) is whether the ligaments hold up. And (the doctor) did some tests when I came in Thanksgiving morning and they liked the way everything looked. But it’s not as painful as it was four or five days ago.”
Brooks said Mason’s return would affect the team’s rotation, which Brooks shortened to eight players immediately after taking over for coach P.J. Carlesimo.
“Someone’s going to have to not play as many minutes,” Brooks said. “It’s going to be a game feel. I don’t know who that player will be tonight. We’ve been playing a lot of players a lot of minutes. Probably a few minutes will be taken away from a few different guys.”
But Mason will continue to come off the bench rather than be inserted into the starting lineup, Brooks said.
“I like what he brings off the bench,” Brooks said. “Everything is going to be an evaluation. But right now we like what we saw when he came off the bench.
“He does bring something that we love. He’s tough. He competes. He’s a team guy. We want everybody to do those things. We feel that we’re taking steps going in that direction.”
Mason is averaging 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 10 games.