Howard incurred stress fracture during playoffs, should be fine for Olympics

LAS VEGAS -- On their one and only day of minicamp, Team USA was not whole.

Dwight Howard was forced to sit out practice Saturday due to a stress fracture of his sternum, an injury he sustained during the Orlando Magic's second round playoff loss to the Detroit Pistons.

"It's a six to eight week recovery time, and this is the sixth week," said Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, who expects Howard to be fully healed by the time the team reconvenes for training camp July 21.

Still, the injury is worrisome for the Americans, who are planning to go to Beijing with just three big men -- Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer. If Howard were to aggravate the injury, that lack of front-line depth could become a major issue.

Howard said he sustained the injury when he collided simultaneously and was sandwiched between Jason Maxiell and Arron Afflalo of the Pistons. Doctors told him it is an injury typically incurred by hockey players.

"It hurts. I haven't been able to really do anything since the playoffs, but it'll be all right," Howard said. "I should be fine by the time we start training camp. That's what the doctor said. So there's no worries for me or the staff."

After holding a private team meeting Friday night, the Americans went through a light practice with little contact Saturday on the campus of UNLV, where they will play their only exhibition game on U.S. soil when they face Canada on July 25. They leave the next day for Asia, with exhibition games planned for Macao and Shanghai before they arrive in Beijing.

The Americans also have another injury to be concerned with -- Kobe Bryant's pinkie finger, which has a turn ligament and an avulsion fracture. He plans to have it surgically repaired after the team returns from China and said he does not expect it to keep him out of Lakers' training camp in October.

"It changes my release. Because it's taped, the way I release the ball is different -- it's choppier," Bryant said. "It hasn't gotten better, it stays the same. I don't feel pain or nothing like that, but if you hit it or jam it, it goes dead for a couple minutes."

Plans for an additional practice Sunday have been scrapped, and the team will instead fly to New York for a promotional tour and to unveil their uniforms. They will then have three weeks to rest before reporting back to Las Vegas for training camp. If any U.S. players are injured prior to the Olympics, they can be replaced on the roster up until Aug. 9 -- but only if the injury is verified by authorities from the International Olympic Committee and the USOC.