PORTLAND, Ore. — Former Jazz star Karl Malone will not play when the Los Angeles Lakers visit Utah on Monday night at the Delta Center, Malone's agent said Saturday.

Reports Saturday out of Los Angeles used terms and phrases such as "unlikely," "probably would . . . not play" and "does not expect to play" to describe Malone's status for what might have been his first game in Utah since signing with the Lakers as a free agent last summer.

But agent Dwight Manley, speaking by phone from California, said with certainty that Malone is a no-go.

"He's dying to play," Manley said, "but he told me (Friday) it is definite he would not play — that he won't play for at least a week."

Malone, cleared Thursday to resume practicing with no limitations, has been out since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Dec. 21.

"I'm becoming more realistic about when I can play again," Malone, who spoke to several reporters covering the Lakers, was quoted as saying in Saturday's editions of the Los Angeles Daily News.

The NBA's No. 2 all-time scorer had been indicating for some time that he very much wanted to play his first game against the Jazz on Monday, but now he is backing off that stance.

"I think it's more important for me to get back on the court (fully healthy)," the Daily News quoted Malone as saying.

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"For a lot of different reasons, I don't even know if I'm interested in playing in that game," he added. "Not that I'm taking it lightly or nothing like that. I just think that there's more important things for me to do, and that's be 100 percent ready to come back and not 90 percent."

The Lakers do not want Malone, who signed with Los Angeles last July after spending his first 18 NBA seasons in Utah, to return until the knee is sounder structurally. Lakers coach Phil Jackson even mentioned a possible return date of March 17 to media members in L.A.

If that's the case, and he sustains no setbacks, Malone could play in the Lakers' final regular-season game against the Jazz this season — March 28, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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