Francis back; role uncertain


Steve Francis was back at practice yesterday, but that doesn't mean he'll be back in the Orlando Magic's starting lineup tonight against the Washington Wizards.

Magic coach Brian Hill said he was undecided about Francis, the former Maryland star, regaining his starting role immediately, hinting that second-year point guard Jameer Nelson may replace him.

Francis missed the previous two games - both losses on a West Coast trip - after being suspended by the team for his refusal to re-enter a game in the final minutes against the Seattle SuperSonics last week.

"I haven't decided on the starting lineup yet," Hill said after practice.

If Francis doesn't start, it would be the first time he has played as a reserve since coming to the Magic before the 2004-05 season. In his seven-year NBA career, Francis has played as a reserve only twice.

"Hey, there's a first time for everything," assistant general manager Otis Smith said.

Francis led the Magic in scoring (21.3 points per game) last season and was doing so again this season until a recent slump. He is averaging 16.6 points, narrowly trailing Grant Hill (16.8).

"Whatever [Hill] decides, I'll stick with it," Francis said in an apology yesterday. "What I did was completely wrong. It was in the heat of a moment. It was not a smart decision, not a wise decision on my part. But I've apologized to the fans, to the coaches, my teammates, and I'll get through it."

The Magic (13-22) is desperate for a spark that Francis can provide with his aggressive play, but Nelson has played particularly well at the point this month. In the past nine games, Nelson has averaged 23.1 points and seven assists, shooting 53.5 percent from the field. In his seven starts this season, though, the Magic is 1-6.

Small forward Grant Hill played in Sunday night's loss to Sacramento, but was one of three players who missed practice yesterday. He spent the day in Philadelphia being re-examined by the surgeon who performed his sports hernia surgery Oct. 31. He had been complaining of soreness in the area.

Lakers -- Ronny Turiaf is back with the team less than six months after having open-heart surgery. The forward signed a deal yesterday. Turiaf, a three-year starter at Gonzaga, was a second-round draft pick of Los Angeles last June after averaging 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds as a senior last season. An enlarged aortic root was discovered by the Lakers in a physical exam four weeks after the draft, and Turiaf underwent surgery July 26. To make room for Turiaf on the roster, the Lakers waived guard Laron Profit (Maryland).

Knicks -- Guard Stephon Marbury, who hasn't missed a game because of injury in five years, is doubtful for tonight's game in Chicago because of a sprained left shoulder.

On the court

Jazz 111, Raptors 98 -- Andrei Kirilenko had 18 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists for host Utah's first triple double since 1999 as the Jazz ended a two-game losing streak.

Kings 119, Suns 90 -- Kevin Martin scored 25 points and Kenny Thomas had 22 to lead host Sacramento over Phoenix. Shawn Marion led the Suns with 25.

Tim Povtak writes for the Orlando Sentinel. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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