Doctor Clears Manning to Play : Clippers: Injured forward will be available 15-to-20 minutes per game beginning Wednesday against Milwaukee.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than 11 months after suffering a knee injury that was serious enough to cloud his future in the NBA, Danny Manning got approval Monday to rejoin the Clippers and play Wednesday night against Milwaukee at the Sports Arena.

Surgeon Stephen Lombardo said that Manning should be restricted to 15 to 20 minutes a game, even less in games on consecutive nights, for about the first two weeks of the comeback. Anything after that will depend on how the knee reacts, he said.

"I've been looking forward to this day," said Manning, who, looking for a fresh start, has switched from uniform No. 25 to No. 5. "It has been a long time coming. A long time coming."

So far, all signs are positive. Manning, who suffered a torn ligament in his right knee Jan. 4 and underwent a 2 1/2-hour operation Jan. 14, has been saying for more than a week that he was ready to return, and teammates, having watched him in practices, agreed. All that was missing was Lombardo's OK.

"There have no complications, no setbacks of any kind," General Manager Elgin Baylor said. "Everything went very smoothly. He responded well to everything--the therapy and the rehabilitation."

Manning's injury was one of the most serious a basketball player could suffer because the ligament helps keep the knee hinged. Baylor, who has spent time with the former No. 1 draft choice in keeping his basketball techniques sharp during the months off, would not speculate how much, if any, speed or mobility was lost.

"It's hard to tell now," Baylor said. "We won't be able to tell until he gets back into the actual competition, something other than scrimmaging against teammates."

Manning averaged 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 26 games during his rookie season. The Clippers went 9-17 in that time, and 11-41 without him, including a four-game contract holdout.

"We kind of knew it was coming, but it's still a big thing for him to come back because he worked hard to get here," Coach Don Casey said. "It is a good thing for him and us, spiritually as well as for his playing."

The Clippers, who will play at Portland tonight, will have to make another move Wednesday to clear a roster spot for Manning.

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