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Published Oct. 2, 2005

Guard Lucious Harris had finger surgery and will be sidelined 6-8 weeks. He broke his right ring finger Sunday when the Nets beat Milwaukee.

The 3-0 Nets are off to their best start since joining the league in 1976 despite the absence of two starters. Shooting guard Kerry Kittles has a groin injury and rookie power forward Keith Van Horn probably will miss at least the first month with a badly sprained ankle.

The injuries have forced the Nets, who last made the playoffs in 1994, to practice in recent weeks with fewer than 10 players.

"I told them before the game that three wins in a row is a barrier to this organization," second-year coach John Calipari said Wednesday night, after seven Nets scored in double figures in a 112-96 win over the winless Warriors. "You may say that is ridiculous, but it is. Now we have to say, "What are the other barriers we can break?' "

Some of those answers may come over the weekend. The Nets, who won 26 games last season, face Miami at home tonight, then go to Chicago Saturday to meet the Bulls and Michael Jordan.

LAKERS: Shaquille O'Neal returns to the lineup tonight against the New York Knicks at the Forum, sounding eager to face the challenge of Patrick Ewing.

"I took two weeks off, not doing anything," O'Neal said of missing time because of an abdominal muscle strain, "except riding that damn stationary bike."

Coach Del Harris, who said he was impressed by O'Neal's work in practice at Los Angeles Southwest College, will nonetheless limit the 7-foot-1 center to 25 minutes of playing time tonight.

"He played awfully well _ I was amazed," Harris said. "It really didn't look like he'd missed as much time as he had."

Harris said O'Neal will probably start.

"We'll see how he feels (today) after the way he worked," Harris said.

WARRIORS: The renovated Oakland Arena, with its $102-million facelift, debuts Saturday night as Golden State plays host to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

After a year at the San Jose Arena, the Warriors return home to an arena with more than 4,000 added seats and state-of-the-art video and sound systems.

The outer shell and roof were preserved from the old arena, built in 1964. But just about everything inside is new.

The new arena has 19,200 seats, up from 15,039 in the old place. The floor was lowered by 4 feet to add the seating.

BULLS: Radio announcer Derrek Dickey was in critical but stable condition after having a stroke, a hospital administrator said.